#TBT: SavoryGirl on Check Please Bay Area!

CPBAphoto

I don't think I've ever done a #ThrowBackThursday post, but I just had a SavoryGirl throwback experience myself this week so it only seemed fitting! This week I attended the Check, Please! Bay Area 10 Year Anniversary Party and it brought back so many fun memories of when I was on the show back in 2011. So take a little trip down memory lane with me...enjoy the show!

____________________________________

Reposted from July 6, 2011

Woo, hoo!  The Check, Please! Bay Area Season 6 Opener featuring yours truly aired a bit earlier tonight and if I do say so myself it was a pretty great episode!  As promised, I have posted the link to the episode for those of you who missed it:

Online Season 6 Opener of Check, Please! Bay Area...did you watch?  What did you think?!  Are you going to Saha ASAP?!

Since my post on Tuesday I’ve had quite a few questions about what the Check, Please! Bay Area experience was like...especially after my “I hope I’m not a total fool after all of that wine they fed us in the green room” line!  So here goes, for those of you interested I strongly encourage you go submit an application yourself!
Namu Gaji – My New Favorite Restaurant

Uni

Wow.  Have I found a jewel here in this great food city of ours! Now, to be clear, I haven't really "found" it...Namu Gaji has been in existence for quite a while but somehow I've never been and I feel like you just don't hear about it all that often anymore.  But this place - Blows. Me. Away.  It's one of those places that makes me stop, pause and moan a little after the first bite of each dish. So much so that the staff notices and pays me lots of extra attention because they can tell just how much I'm enjoying their food.  And who doesn't love that kind of patron?! Did all of this melodrama and attention annoy my date?  Probably. But it was a bad date right from the start so I turned my focus to the food...which in turn helped the sous chef turn his attention to me since we were sitting with him at the Chef's Bar.  Way to turn a bad date into a fabulous experience!

Namu Gaji is family run by three brothers and they source many of their ingredients from their own Namu farm.  They classify themselves as New Korean American cuisine.  On their site they refer to themselves as "humble, innovative and personal" and I couldn't agree more  For a slightly more expensive restaurant that serves up some of the most beautiful platings I've seen it is also extremely unpretentious, warm and welcoming.  Even on my first visit I felt comfortable enough on a busy Saturday night to hold up staff for extended chats like they were old friends.  That is rare to find in this city that isn't exactly known for it's service. The people working here truly enjoy their craft and are in this business to bring pleasure to others through their food...so much so that I got a surprise freebie, special dish made for me on both visits simply because they could see my raw appreciation of their work.  I'm not saying to expect that, but wow.  Making me feel that they love me as much as I love them?  Good move and amazing customer service.

Now, I'm going to walk you through each dish...and there are a lot of them! But that's because I've been waxing on so much about this place that my friend decided to bring me back for a belated birthday dinner about a week after my first dinner here. And even still I'm missing a few dishes (like the delish real Korean taco they have at happy hour and the amuse bouche from each visit) that we forgot to snap pictures of before devouring!

So first up...the photo that starts this blog post. Uni. Buckwheat lavash, kumquat, mustard seed, egg white, pistou and of course, uni. This is the dish that made the sous chef and I buddies.  Why?  Because after my first bite and food orgasm sounds, I stopped and said, "Wow.  THIS is sex on a plate."  And I continued to repeat that to every staff member who asked how I liked it.  Little did I know the sous chef responsible for this dish, Mark Zawiski, was right in front of me and overheard this lavish compliment.  This works out in my favor later!

OysterThis next dish is Oyster.  Oysters with uni and panko breadcrumbs.  I got this on my second visit...but only because they had temporarily taken my Uni dish off the menu.  What?!  That's the dish I couldn't stop talking about! I teased the chef..."Wait, I call it sex on a plate and you take it OFF the menu?  I think you should have renamed it on the menu!"  He loved that and apologized and said it would be back on the menu tomorrow.  I pouted as big as I could and ordered the oyster dish since it at least had some uni in it.  While this was nowhere near as good as the true Uni dish, it was delightful and would be divine on a good first date.  Some of the oysters were a bit too big so they overtook the delicate uni flavor but on the ones where the ratio was right it was delicious.

But wait!  As I'm pouting about Uni being off the menu that crafty sous chef Zawiski is sneaking around right in front of me and making it up special for Katherine and I.  Imagine my delight and surprise when it gets brought over to us! Seriously, this is only my second visit here and I feel like a regular and special guest all at the same time. That's hard to pull off and so rare.  Man I love this Uni dish and Katherine did too!

M.Y. China – Yan Really Can Cook!

Chef Martin Yan...renowned chef, cookbook author and cooking show personality extraordinaire has recently opened a new restaurant in the Dome Collection at the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Center. I know, mall restaurant doesn't typically scream fabulous food and atmosphere, but trust me, M.Y. China is an exception.  The atmosphere is fun, lively and entertaining and the food is to die for. Seriously...To. Die. For. Eating at M.Y. China makes you feel like you are eating from an authentic stall in the streets of China.  And for a gastronomic traveler like me, that's a real compliment.  No Americanized Chinese food here...fresh flavors, beautiful colors and authentic spices and ingredients. Hungry yet?  All right then...let's take a little i-Phone enabled photo journey through M.Y. China!

First up, house-made spicy green papaya pickles! We love green papaya salad that is so common in Thai food, but this was a nice tangy twist on green papaya as we know it.  Perfect to snack on throughout the entire meal to add a bit of acidity between courses.

Next, Wild Boar Juicy Dumplings. Served piping hot...so the hardest part is letting them cool down a bit before popping them into your mouth. If you've never had juicy dumplings before, it's important that you eat the whole thing in one big bite so when the delicious juicy filling squirts out you capture it in your mouth instead of all over your face! Gingery, garlicky goodness.  Delish.

We followed our juicy dumplings with Dan Dan Noodles.  An amazing, traditional Chinese dish that has chilled noodles flavored with a delicious mix of vegetables,  pork, peanuts, Szechuan pepper and chili-garlic oil. Makes your lips all tingly and your fork keep digging back in for more.  I could eat this every day of the week.

Chris Cosentino’s Incanto

Trotter cake, periwinkle snails & radishes being devoured

Christian and I have been saying that Incanto is one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco since our very first visit about two years ago, so it was only fitting that we return there for Christian's birthday this year. I'm always a little nervous when I return to a "favorite" since there's a chance that it won't live up to expectations...but Incanto more than delivered. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since chef Chris Cosentino was just named Top Chef Master recently and is even closer to über-celebrity chef status than ever.

So what do we love so much about Incanto? Well it's Italian to start (yes, we're that easy!) but beyond that chef Cosentino's philosophy about using the whole animal is right up my alley. We love trying new cuts of meat in unique and skillful preparations and that is precisely Cosentino's area of expertise. We honestly have a hard time getting past his "Odds & Ends" special board onto the main menu whenever we go there for dinner! And while we're being honest...I have a total foodie crush on Chris Cosentino. He's like the bad-ass chef without trying too hard...who wouldn't want to come home to his cute face, engaging personality (on T.V. at least!) and delicious cooking every night? Yum.

The master at work...Chris Cosetino

Ok, moving off the man-meat and onto the real food...our first dish was an amazing take on a traditional prosciutto with fruit plate - Boccalone Ibérico di bellota lardo with roasted figs, hazelnuts & rose thyme. The lardo is delicate with a slight salty-sweet essence that pairs oh-so perfectly with the roasted figs and crunchy hazelnuts. A lovely start to what promised to be a delicious evening!

Boccalone Ibérico di bellota lardo, roasted figs, hazelnuts & rose thyme

Next, onto our first special from the Odds & Ends board...beef heart tartare with chives and puffed beef tendons. I know, I know...puffed beef tendons?  But if you even remotely like pork rinds you will love these! My only complaint is that there weren't more of them to eat alongside the tartare. The tartare itself was incredibly rich and flavorful. The chives and bit of fish sauce used really brought the flavors together...yum.  I think this was Christian's favorite dish of the night.

Beef heart tartare with puffed beef tendons

The Odds & Ends specials board is always so enticing that we ended up getting 3 appetizers...we figured it was fitting to behave like little piggly-wigglys when we were in a restaurant that practically acts as a shrine to pork! Speaking of pork, this third appetizer was a Trotter Cake with Periwinkle Snails and Radishes. Definitely the best trotter cake I've ever had...large succulent pieces of pork leg/foot meat seasoned to perfection in a nicely crisped exterior. The pairings of snails and radishes with trotter cake initially seemed a bit odd (but also why we ordered it) but it really all worked well together.  

Bluebird Tavern in Burlington, VT

Menu - Bluebird Tavern in Burlington, VT

Flipping through Bon Appétit a few months ago, I stumbled across an article all about Burlington, Vermont which was convenient since I was heading there for a wedding in September.  So I read up and promptly made a reservation at Bluebird Tavern. Why? Well, first because it's my kind of restaurant...one with intense ties to the local food community sourcing seasonally, locally, organically and proudly listing all of their farm partners right on their menu. Of course, it didn't hurt that their menu sounded absolutely delicious and that the article made it sound like it was almost unfair for a small state like Vermont to have a restaurant this good!

I have to say I agree...this is a fantastic restaurant and I would strongly encourage you to check it out next time you're in Burlington, with my only criticism being that I found it to be overpriced, but read on to find out all about the food...

Bluebird Tavern's Open Kitchen

When our party of 5 first arrived at Bluebird Tavern the few outdoor tables were full but the inside was almost completely empty. It was 6:30 on a Friday night. A bit early, yes...but the lack of customers compared to the bustling vibe of other restaurants we had just walked by concerned us a bit. As you can see above, there is a lovely open kitchen which we were happily seated right near which at least temporarily distracted us from our concern over the lacking customers...and by the time we left it had picked up a bit more as well.

Pickled Tomatoes with Bacon Butter on Grilled Bread at Bluebird Tavern

First up...a Vermont spin on bruschetta. Pickled tomatoes atop bacon butter and grilled bread. This was delicious, and we enjoyed the bread in this starter quite a bit more than the house-made focaccia that they brought over when we first sat down. Lovely, rustic serving style that you'll see continued throughout the meal.

Handmade Cloth Cheese with Local Honey, Apple Butter and Spice Bread at Bluebird Tavern

This next starter wasn't even an option...as soon as I saw it on the menu I declared that we would be ordering it. Homemade cloth cheese served alongside local honeycomb, freshly made apple butter and spice bread. Each element of this tasting board was divine on it's own but the cheese and honey together was like a Vermont welcoming party in your mouth.

Heaven’s Dog

Charles Phan's Vietenamese Restaurant, The Slanted Door, is one of Christian's favorite restaurants in the city. So back in 2009 when we heard Phan was opening a new Chinese restaurant, Heaven's Dog, we knew we had to go check it out.  Three years later and we're finally going!  What can I say, there are a lot of restaurants to try and keep us busy in the Bay Area, so we're not what you would call "on trend" with this one. But it's my birthday and we're heading downtown to go dancing and wanted something relatively inexpensive and easy so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally give it a try.

To be honest, after reading many of the diner reviews I didn't have super high hopes...I know, I know, so then why am I risking my birthday dinner here? Well, to be honest we have faith in Charles Phan and have heard amazing things about the cocktail program by bar manager Trevor Easter (who was recently named a SFGate Bar Star).  So off we go!  Is Heaven's Dog Best in Show or a Pound Puppy?  Read on to find out...

First things first...the cocktails!  I got the Pimm's Cup Rangoon and Christian ordered the "Freedom from Choice" where you simply tell the bartender your spirit of choice and if you prefer citrus or spiritous cocktails.  My drink was delightful, not to sweet but with enough gin that you knew you had a drink...light and refreshing so it didn't overpower or compete with my food too much. Christian's adventure led him to a Kentucky Mule with candied ginger.  This is what I call a manly cocktail...puts a little hair on your chest with that first sip but sweetened up just enough to make it fun.  Quite delicious...they make some top notch cocktails here and for $10 that's about as good as it gets in this city!

First up for food, the Scallion Pancake. I actually wasn't expecting much from this but was pleasantly surprised.  Nice and crunchy with a strong scallion flavor. It could have used a tad less salt (and seriously, I never say that!) and some kind of a dipping sauce or spread to go alongside but all in all it was pretty good.

Next, Shumai Dumplings. To be fair, I'm not a dumpling connoisseur but the texture of the filling of these really put me off at first.  The flavors were quite nice (as were the flavors in the horseradish mustard and chili dipping sauces) but the texture felt fatty and sinewy at first.  By my second dumpling the texture didn't bother me quite so much and by my third I was fully enjoying it and over the initial mouth-feel issue. That being said, I think I would go with the Shanghai Dumplings next time and skip these. The Shanghai Dumplings are soup dumplings which is a fun experience in of itself if you've never had a soup dumpling before...they kind of explode a little soup-like goodness inside your mouth so you have to eat the whole dumpling in one bite.  Kind of like those chocolate covered cherry candies we all loved when we were kids!

State Bird Provisions – Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant

The "dim-sum style" cart making it's rounds at State Bird Provisions

I may call myself a foodie but I am never on trend. So when I found myself celebrating our anniversary at State Bird Provisions the very same week that Bon Appétit named it the best new restaurant in the entire country I was extremely proud...especially since I completely agree with their rave review!  So what's all the hype around State Bird Provisions?  Well, in my opinion it's the perfect trifecta of fantastic food, warm and somewhat funky atmosphere and a unique style of service.  It wakes you up out of your "going out for another fancy dinner" stupor and makes you think, eating out should always be this fun!  And while it certainly would classify as sophisticated, high-end cuisine, it's done in an extremely approachable and affordable (in my "Bay Area skewed definition of affordable"opinion) manner.

The atmosphere has a bit of hipster funk to it, but in a mom's kitchen kind of way.  Quirky yet warm.  The service is extremely friendly which is important since the waitstaff interacts much more closely with the patrons due to the table-side explanations.  It may seem a bit slow to some, but I honestly think that's just because they kind of try to leave you alone when they're not explaining the food table-side so that they're not at your table the entire night!  It's a small enough place though, very easy to call someone over whenever you do need some extra attention.  You can also try to grab one of the bar seats overlooking the kitchen, which I honestly think would be the best seat in the house, but I always love watching the kitchen at work!

My recommendation?  Get to State Bird Provisions stat...before all of those globe-trotting foodies start pounding down the door to this small Western Addition gem.  It's the perfect spot before a show at the Fillmore or the Boom Boom Room or even Kabuki Theaters.  But when you go, go with an open mind. Be comfortable with deciding what to eat as you go and not knowing how many dishes you'll actually end up ordering. The dishes that come by dim-sum style ranged from $5-$9 each but they're enough to share 2-4 ways depending on how many you order. Yes, you can order items from the 5-7 items on the "commandables" list...but since that only represents about 1/3 of the actual dishes you'll be presented with throughout the night don't order too many.

For the two of us we ordered 2 commandable main dishes, 1 commandable starter, 6 table-side dishes and 2 desserts.  It sounds like a lot, but we were happily full by the end, not bursting at the seams...and remember, we were celebrating so we indulged a bit!  For all of that variety plus two drinks each and tip we spent about $130, which for San Francisco high-end cuisine and honestly one of the most fun nights at a restaurant I can remember felt like a bargain.  So you ready for the culinary photo tour?  Let's get started... Guinea Hen Dumplings at State Bird Provisions

Guinea Hen Dumplings in a delightful Pho-like broth.  We were slurping up every last drop of broth knowing that if this was the first taste we had a good night ahead of us!

Ahi Crudo with Quinoa and Chrysanthemum Greens at State Bird Provisions

Ahi Crudo with Quinoa and Chrysanthemum Greens...the delightful surprise in this dish was a combination of perfectly cooked quinoa with toasted crunchy quinoa sprinkled on top. Fantastic juxtaposition of textures.

Heirloom Tomato and Corn Salad with Salmon at State Bird Provisions

Heirloom Tomato & Corn Salad with Salmon.This dish had another great crispy crunch sprinkled on top and the salmon was cooked perfectly rare.  Lovely sophisticated touches added to one of my favorite summer salads.

Calabrian Chili Tofu with Pickles at State Bird Provisions

Oh, this reminded me of something you might get at Mission Chinese Food (another one of my quirky faves!).  Not nearly as spicy as it looks or what you would get at MCF but the Calabrian Chili Tofu complemented with a unique take on pesto and crunchy pickles was just so unique and delicious.  The texture of the tofu was divine as well...I'm not sure if it was homemade, but the firmness was just perfect.  Absolutely loved this dish.

One of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World: Astrid y Gaston, Lima

In the middle of a huge trip to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu we had one sole day in Lima, Peru.  Actually, more like half a day.  Neither one of us had ever been to Lima or even Peru for that matter so we were excited by the prospect of our first Peruvian food exploration...which of course is what we chose to spend our limited time on in Lima! Astrid y Gastón was the obvious choice. Not only has it been recognized as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, #35 to be exact, but everyone we knew who had been insisted that we go as well. So we made a reservation for lunch (dinner was booked 3 months out) and considered our one afternoon in Lima planned!

Originally we had intended to do the full tasting menu but when we got there and they told us that it would be a 3-4 hour experience we decided to just order a la carte instead so we still had a bit of time to explore the city before taking off on the next leg of our trip.  As you'll see below we were still able to explore quite a bit of their huge menu...

First up, a little mango and sea urchin amuse bouche.  Served in a crispy tortilla-like shell this was a perfect little bite with a nice juxtaposition of salty/sweet and crunchy/soft.

Next we sampled the Peruvian national dish, Ceviche.  We love ceviche and have had quite a few great ceviches throughout our well-fed lives but this one immediately rose right to the top of our past ceviche experiences.  Really, it's only tied with the ceviche we've had at our favorite Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco, La Mar (which we actually found out is owned by Astrid y Gastón...fabulous!) .  The ceviche at Astrid y Gastón was incredibly fresh with a clean taste and delicious sauces that were each distinct yet subtle enough to not overpower the fish. One sauce was traditional lime while the other two were a bit more unique.  One spicy with plantains and another with sweet potatoes and hints of mango and coconut. Absolutely divine...best ceviche we had during our entire time in Peru.

Another appetizer we tried was called "La Guerra de los Antiuochos"...tender yet crispy grilled octupus served alongside lightly fried white asparagus and shaved Peruvian olives.  This was great...some of the best prepared octopus I've ever had.  And the Peruvian olives almost had an intense truffle-like flavor.  Wow!

Pacific Catch

 

I keep waiting until a time where we actually eat in at Pacific Catch instead of ordering out to take a good photo and tell you about it, but I've decided enough is enough and it's time to share!  Pacific Catch is by far our favorite take-out place...we order it in at least twice a month, which is saying a lot for us since we prefer to try new places and are rarely repeat customers!

So what's so great about Pacific Catch?  They have fantastically fresh seafood, great flavor combinations and super high-quality ingredients.  I order the same exact thing every time (which again, is crazy for me!)...not because the other bites I've had aren't delicious as well but because I genuinely crave this dish pictured above (it would be even prettier if not in a take-out container!).  So what is it?  It is the Japanese Wasabi Bowl with Poke and half brown rice/half salad (instead of the full white rice order it usually comes with).  So freaking good!  Ridiculously fresh Ahi, avocado, fresh ginger, micro greens, wakame salad, shredded nori all lightly dressed in a soy wasabi sauce.  Don't let the wasabi in the  name fool you, it's not super spicy.  Mix it all together sit back and eat some of the most guilt-free yet satisfying take-out you've ever had!  

SavoryGirl on Check, Please! Bay Area

KQED is re-airing the Check, Please! Bay Area Season 6 Opener featuring yours truly this weekend! The schedule for the re-airings is below (Friday, Saturday & Sunday!), but I've also included a link to the online episode in case you miss it.

So if you haven't seen "my" episode before, take a look and let me know what you think! Are you going to my restaurant recommendation, Saha ASAP?!  If you ever doubted my reviews before this should give you a bit more confidence...SavoryGirl knows good food!