Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reading: Garlic and Sapphires

The book Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl was first recommended to me by my foodie friend Cynthia ( Ruth Reichl was once a food critic for LA Weekly and LA Times before she was wooed over to the New York Times. Ms. Reichl's tenure at the NY Times was the timeframe of the book's content.

Many out there may not sympathize with this particular cause but food critics have it hard. If not properly conducted in a discreet enough manner as to enjoy a meal completely unrecognized, a food critic can become overwhelmed with overtly friendly service, barraged with the finest dishes prepared with the kitchen's most quality ingredients and dare I say, even forced to eat for free. The only word I can think of for this kind of victimization is heinous. What about you? But all sarcasm aside, food criticism may not be the most important type of work but clearly, I love it.

It took me a while to decide whether and why I was compelled to finish this book. On one hand, I felt that Ms. Reichl took food writing a bit too seriously. Sure, I can understand her suggested issues of journalism politics. Especially at a paper as venerable NY Times, she a painted a picture of a somewhat conservative office culture and uptight editors. But when she wrote about picking low-key but quality ethnic restaurants to review as almost a form of advocacy for diversity (as compared to the bias towards traditional French-fare of the previous critic), I thought it a bit too righteous. Anyway, her stories revolve around her disguising herself in various costumes to avoid being recognized as the NYT food critic and also the personas she found herself taking on while incognito. The more she tries to be someone else, the more she realizes she is only accentuating a part of her she never knew about herself. (That sounded like a terrible movie promo but it's basically true).

Overall, the stories aren't nearly as cheesy as I made them sound and in fact, Ms. Reichl's description of food was so divine that I'm atttempted to ask if any real food can even taste as good as she made them sound. She would often write about the sensations of eating a certain dish with near odes of poetry and it's pretty clear that if food criticism can be considered a real career, she is a master of the art.

Rating: 9/10

PS. Dear reader(s), thank you for checking the blog! I apologize for my super slow frequency in posting but graduation is just around the corner and I will have nothing better to do in my life than write in this. Woohoo!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Restaurant Review: Chapeau!

Borrowing the excuse of visiting SF, I researched restaurants in the area. After a brief browsing, I came across Chapeau!, a quaint French restaurant in the Richmond District. I took particular notice to the restaurant because of their early bird special, which is a 3-course meal for $25.50 from 5pm to 6pm on weekdays. We arrived exactly at 5pm, only to find that the staff was still finishing setup. It was a little awkward to find the restaurant in mid preparation but it wasn't long before we were seated and merrily on our way to eating.

The first item was a complimentry cream of cauliflower soup topped with truffle oil. Before being told what it was, I wasn't quite certain what the flavor was. All I could have detected was the strong taste of cream. This was also my first encounter with truffle oil. Truffle oil is suppose embody the same aroma as the highly prized (and not to mention, uber expensive) fungi. Sadly, my pedestrian tastebuds did not react any differently to the gourmet ingredient than it would have to say, canola. But I enjoyed the dish nonetheless, especially with their homemade baguettes!

My first course was the duo of salmon, which was an elegant display of smoked salmon wrapped around cubes of salmon tartare and finally topped with thin potato waffles. The dish was not large but quite filling. Now here is a dish that looks good and delivers in taste! My mom had the mescun salad was also pleasant (though not nearly as fancy looking, in my opinion).

My main entree was bass atop pureed potatoes. Again, the presentation was superb! The portions were also commendable. The fish was rich, flaky and crispy on the edges. The potatoes puree was basically very fine mashed potatoes but the little moat of onion sauce around it reminded you that this was a classier cousin to the American-stick-your-ribs-type counterpart. My dad ordered the pork loin, which I did not try but he commented that it was delicious and generous in size.

Finally for dessert, we had their homemade portiferolles, napoleon with basil sauce and trio of sorbet. The portiferolles were terrific! The homemade pate a chaux contained scoops of vanilla bean gelato from the local Ciao Bella brand. The napoleon was an interesting combination of fresh fruit and an unusually flavored syrup. I enjoyed my order the lemon, pear and raspberry cabernet sorbets very much. My favorite of the three was probably the cabernet, which was heavy on the fruit flavor and only suggestive of the alcohol.

Service was very friendly throughout the entire evening and it's worthwhile to point that the restaurant owner even personally greeted each table. Not long after we walked out the door, he rushed out also to thank us for visiting. Adorable!

Chapeau! is a charming and upscale neighborhood restaurant and I would love to revisit one day.

Rating: 9.8/10 (Fabulous!)

1408 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94118