Monday, September 27, 2010

#73 Popovers with strawberry butter at the Rotunda (2009 and 2010)

As A and I are currently ladies of leisure, we decided to become (for an afternoon at least) ladies of leisure who lunch. Therefore, there was one stop from the list that was clearly begging out for us to visit last Friday: the Rotunda restaurant at Neiman Marcus. As expected, it was packed to the hilt with coiffed and manicured ladies who lunch (and, we suspected, a few tourists as well). I had visited only once before, when I bridged these two groups of diners: my grandmother (a coiffed former Junior League member) had taken me (a tourist from San Diego) for an afternoon of shopping in San Francisco when I was eleven or twelve. I honestly don't remember much about that visit.

I'll start with the positives. The ambience of the restaurant is lovely, particularly on one of the strangely sunny days we've been having in San Francisco recently. You can approach from a special elevator on the street, which drops you off on the top level of the tiered restaurant. Each table has a view of flashy gilt and white columns, expanses of windows, and the aforementioned coiffed crowd. Little B felt right at home.

Each meal starts with two complimentary items: an espresso cup of chicken consomme and a puff pastry cracker, as well as a popover with strawberry butter. Clearly, we were visiting with the latter in mind, and sadly, we were a little bit disappointed. The popovers that A introduced me to (that I'd actually made earlier in the week) are superior. I'll admit that the strawberry butter was quite good, and unlike anything I've ever made (or am likely to make) at home.

The other negatives, however, tip the scales away from frequent (or perhaps any) trips back to the restaurant. Let's put it this way: the complimentary items, though pleasant, don't make up for the highway robbery prices on the rest of the menu. A and I split a Chinese chicken salad ($20) and a Dungeness crab sandwich off the specials menu ($28). If these items were truly delicious, the prices would be worth it, but they were a little bit too ordinary. We were also burdened by a slightly-too-chatty server, who dispensed baby advice to the two of us with gay abandon.

I'm not sorry to have eaten at the Rotunda for the second time (in twenty years), but I think I'll make my popovers at home from now on.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

#11 Duck sugo with pappardelle at Delfina (2009 and 2010)

Faithful readers know that I love Delfina in all shapes and forms. It's inspired me more than once (read more here and here). Also, it's on a delicious block! B and I get Pizzeria Delfina take-out with great regularity (including on Friday night), but we hadn't been to the acclaimed restaurant in a very long time. The major reason for this, quite honestly, is that they don't accept OpenTable reservations. Why this is the case, I don't know, but it makes it challenging to eat there.

However, it was my birthday last week, and B had asked if there was anywhere special that I wanted to eat for dinner before the baby arrived, so we sucked it up and called Delfina for reservations. Perhaps because we chose a Monday night to dine, we had our pick of times, so I didn't mind having to negotiate with the reservationist.

We started with a burrata special (I have a weakness for anything with burrata, making it sort of surprising that we haven't yet tried #56 Caponatina with burrata at Beretta from the 2009 list) as well as a fantastic grilled squid and white bean appetizer. The flavors of both dishes worked perfectly, but most amazing was that the texture of the squid was absolutely perfect!

We then each ordered a pasta dish: B selected the wild nettle risotto (quite an attractive shade of green) and I the duck sugo from the list. Technically, the list calls for pork sugo, but that wasn't an option the night we went there. Also, the duck was fantastic! It was rich and tender, and the pappardelle was well-made and well-cooked. We rounded out the meal with a main of white bass served with flavorful, ever-so-lightly-pickled cherry tomatoes; the dish was good, but we were getting a little full at that point. It almost felt like "Top Chef," since we only ate savory dishes. We were too full for even the delicious-sounding chocolate budino on the dessert menu.

Our meal, overall, was fantastic. I'm not sure when we'll be back (this whole baby thing certainly threatens to crimp our dining out in San Francisco, as do our plans to move down the peninsula within the next year), but be back we will.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

#76 Chicken hash at Ella's (2009 and 2010)

Last weekend, B and I made brunch plans with A&K (and little B). Where to go? It came down to Zazie's or Ella's. However, since B and I had never been to Ella's, that ended up as the winning location. The restaurant is located in Laurel Heights, at the corner of Presidio and California.

A and I both ordered the chicken hash, which comes as a fried mash of potatoes and shredded chicken topped with plenty of green onions and two eggs prepared any style. We both enjoyed our meal, which benefited from the addition of a few shakes from the tabasco bottle. B had the curried cauliflower scramble, which was tasty, but quite strange because the dish doesn't come with eggs (in a dish called a scramble!) unless you ask for them. K had the lemon-hazelnut-ricotta pancakes, which I don't think were his favorite, though I enjoyed my bite of them. Little B slept peacefully through the meal.

Tomorrow we're off to B Star for brunch with B's parents, and A has told us we must try the chicken croquette hash. The comparison should be interesting! Even though we didn't have to wait for a table at all at Ella's, I am a big fan of the fact that B Star takes reservations.

So where should you brunch in San Francisco? My absolute favorite spot is Foreign Cinema, and I think I slightly prefer Zazie's to Ella's. Soon we'll know where B Star fits into the rankings too!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

#30 Burger at Fish & Farm (2010)

I'm not sure what happened to the original #30 (Laughing Buddha cocktail at Cantina from the 2009 list), but I don't really care. First off, I'm not drinking alcohol right now, and second, I'm quite pleased with its replacement! Last weekend, JMc came to visit from sunny San Diego, incidentally bringing the beautiful weather with her, and we headed to Fish & Farm near Union Square to try the burger. We were not disappointed.

There are a number of burgers on the two lists, none of which we had yet tried. B and I really like burgers, but we try to limit our red meat consumption for health and environmental consciousness. Nonetheless, now we're very excited to try #38 Burger and fries at the bar at Spruce, as well as #40 Cheeseburger with sweet potato fries at Taylor's Automatic Refresher (both from 2010). At some point, I think we'll also plan to sneak over to #6 Burger with fries at Slow Club from the 2009 list, though I have to wonder why the 7x7 editors knocked it off the list in favor of some sort of Basil gimlet at Rye for the 2010 version.

But these are all future adventures; I want to focus on the present. JMc and I both ordered the burger, which came piled with secret sauce, grilled onions, and housemade pickles on an Acme roll. A large mound of parsley-tossed French fries completed the plate (as did a weird homemade spicy ketchup that JMc and I both did not enjoy; thankfully the restaurant had normal ketchup readily available).

Notably, the portions are quite large. We'd eaten a lot of appetizers (the gnocchi with smoked ham hock and peas was divine), but both JMc and I only ate half the burger. She saved her half for breakfast the next morning, and B ate my other half. In terms of other entrees, M's halibut was reportedly quite good, as was B's salmon.

I do like a restaurant that focuses on organic and sustainable ingredients, which Fish & Farm does, and I do like a good burger. Once our burger tour of San Francisco is complete, we'll be back.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

#1 Roast chicken and bread salad at Zuni (2009 and 2010)

A few weeks ago, thanks to the largesse of our family friends S&T, we headed to Zuni Cafe. My mom has loved the cookbook for years, and I've had fond feelings for proprietress Judy Rodgers since finding out she is both a Stanford and Chez Panisse alum. True to the CP ethos, she uses beautiful, farm-sourced ingredients, often presented with minimal intervention.

The menu changes frequently, but one of the standards is the roast chicken and bread salad, which takes an hour (cooked to order) and serves two. S&T split it for dinner, but I'm counting it on the blog because B and I each had a drumstick that night, and we took home a little bit for leftovers. Honestly, the leftovers were my favorite part; I made a delicious chicken sandwich for lunch the next day! It's good chicken (though maybe not "good frikin chicken"), don't get me wrong, but it just seems a little silly to order roast chicken in a restaurant when it's so easy to make at home. I know that the bread salad is not as easy to replicate as the rest of the dish, but, surprisingly for this carbo kid, it actually wasn't my favorite part (though I loved the currants, pine nuts, and arugula that the bread was tossed with).

The rest of our meal was great: we started with some fritti misti (including a fried lemon slice—who knew how delicious that would be!) and an excellent Caesar. B's entree was lamb prepared four ways, and I had carne asada.

It's a little too spendy for frequent visits, but Zuni is a San Francisco institution, and we'll certainly be back. In the future, though, I'll plan to make my roast chicken at home.

#85 Pulled-pork sandwich at Roadside BBQ (2009 and 2010)

Two nights ago, I wasn't in the mood to make dinner. This was not related to a lack of ingredients in the house (I'd been to the grocery store, and we'd received our CSA box a few days before), but rather to laziness. Nothing more, nothing less. So, first I made a caprese salad with some fresh heirloom tomatoes and the lovely imported buffalo mozzarella from Costco, and then we scanned the list. We headed for #85 pulled-pork sandwich at Roadside BBQ.

How did we choose it? Well, the 2010 version has pictures of some of the greatest hits including this tasty-looking sandwich, plus A&K had been to Roadside BBQ not long before and enjoyed it, plus we read on the website that the proprietors also run one of B's frequent lunch stops, Pancho's. It seemed fated.

I ordered the pulled-pork sandwich, which arrived on a pleasantly firm ciabatta-style roll. I added extra Carolina vinegar sauce to the sandwich, and dug in. The pulled pork was quite good, but I wish the coleslaw, so prominent in the picture, had provided a little bit more texture instead of just color. B went for the brisket plate, which was also tender and tasty. Between those orders, we had three sides: the mac and cheese (disappointing, which I knew it would be, but B wanted to order it), the sweet potato fries (pretty good), and baked beans (delicious!). We were pretty happy that we had had a caprese app at home, because we needed some fresh veggies in our systems.

What stood out most was the service, especially for an order-at-the-counter-style restaurant. When deciding on sides, I asked what the potato salad was like (vinegar-y or mayonnaise-y), and was offered a taste. The "taste" was essentially a side serving!

All in all, I prefer Carolina pulled pork (really, who doesn't?), but Roadside BBQ is a moderately-priced San Francisco alternative.

Monday, May 3, 2010

#63 Meatballs with grapes at Aziza

April was a difficult month for me in the ICU at the county hospital. Little sleep, lots of overnight call in the hospital, sick patients. To celebrate the end of the month (and a return to normalcy for the month of May), B and I had dinner at Aziza at the end of last week. We'd been there once before with my parents, and remembered having a good meal. This time, however, we had a truly excellent meal.

We started with the flatbreads, seasoned and artistically served with three dips (roasted eggplant, tzaziki, and roasted pepper). Then we moved on to the signature dish, which A had warned me ahead of time wasn't always on the menu. Thankfully, the meatballs with grapes were available when we dined last week. Succulent roasted purple grapes alternated space on each skewer with similarly-sized, harissa-spiced meatballs. They were fantastic! B also had a burrata, avocado, and beet salad to round out our appetizers.

For mains, B had Wagyu beef, and I had delicious scallops. I don't think either was quite as good as our appetizers, but we enjoyed both. We finished with a banana dessert: banana crepe, banana-date fritters, and a creme anglaise.

Chef Lahlou definitely meets his goal of combining Moroccan-inspired cuisine with sustainable, local ingredients. Aziza is worth its Michelin star in my book!