Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Butterfly (Embarcadero SF)

A fabulous Dine About Town lunch deal.

I came to Butterfly last January during Dine About Town in San Francisco.  Dine About Town is a glorious time when various restaurants feature $22 prix-fixe lunch and $35 prix-fixe dinner menus.  You're not really saving all that much money but let's just pretend that we are.  The best part about selecting a prix-fixe menu is committing to overeating: who can deny dessert after a full meal when you're already paying for it?  

From left to right: calamari appetizer, red snapper with tumeric and basil, lettuce and vermicelli noodles, chocolate lava cake and coffee ice cream

Butterfly is a Vietnamese fusion restaurant.  While I'm not usually crazy about Asian "fusion" cuisine, I thoroughly enjoyed this meal.  Firstly, my calamari appetizer was huge, which was already a plus in my book.  Not only was the calamari overflowing from the boat shaped dishware, it was actually very tasty and extremely filling.  Nevertheless, I pressed on with the next course.  For entree, I selected the red snapper with tumeric.  The fish and vermicelli noodles were to be wrapped in lettuce and then dipped in sauce.  The combination of tumeric and basil flavored the snapper very nicely.  Overall, this main course scored well in taste, texture and portion size.   Lastly, I chose the chocolate cake dessert.  I am a sucker for chocolate desserts and will, without fail, find the chocolate option in every dessert menu and inevitably select that one.  If I am sharing a dessert with other people, then I usually put on an air of disinterest at the selection, as if I am easy going and just coo' with whatevs.  But as soon as anyone shows even a modicum of interest towards the "chocolate ______", then I immediately second that choice and reveal my true self from my thinly veiled charade.  So basically, I like the chocolate.  And I liked this chocolate cake too, especially because I had it all to myself.  Together with the coffee ice cream, it was more than enough food, which is just how I like it.

Range (Mission SF)

What do I expect from one Michelin star?  EVERYTHING.

Perhaps that I explained my inevitable dissappointment.  I'd had been wanting to visit Range for a long time, after hearing that it had received a Michelin star but still had entrees priced at around $20. 

From left to right: pureed cauliflower soup, goat cheese ravioli, skate wing, braised beef cheeks, vegetable soup with white beans, chocolate crepe with grapefruit and a scoop of red pepper ice cream

I asked the waitress why the restaurant was named "Range" and she responded that it was because there was a range theme throughout every part of the restaurant; the kitchen had a range of stations, there was a range of seating arrangements...etc.  Mind blowing, right?

Anyway, on to the food: I ordered the skate because it sounded like an unusual kind of fish.  As it turns out, the skate looks like a stingray.  The skate wing had an interesting texture: something between that of a white fish and chicken, and stringy in nature.  My skate was pretty good, although a bit too salty.  

For dessert, we shared the chocolate crepes.  The grapefruit, crepes and ice cream were all independently delicious but really had no business sharing the same plate.  In summary, besides using fresh and high quality ingredients, the food at Range did not seem particularly special.  Maybe we went on an off day?  Maybe we ordered the wrong things?  But mostly I blame the Michelin-ness for distorting my impression of a perfectly fine restaurant, just because it wasn't the best I ever had.

Aloe (NYC)

A relative bargain in the East Village.

I found Aloe on Yelp, where it appeared to be a little known but well liked restaurant in its neighborhood.  The prices were also reasonable, with entrees hovering around $20.  The building of the restaurant looked no different than the residential houses that it was sandwiched between.  It's quaint exterior added to Aloe's "well kept secret" appeal.

From left to right: fried calamari appetizer, vegetable pasta, duck confit salad, goosefish (?) on orzo salad, duck breast on waffle

I had the goosefish (actually, it was something other than goosefish but the name was equally hilarious) entree.  The upshot of the dish was the preparation of the fish: seared lightly on one side and fully cooked throughout, but not overdone.  I'd never had goosefish before and I found the texture, which was rough and chicken-like, to be kind of odd.  I was trying to be adventurous but truthfully, I doubt I will order goosefish again.  The downside of the dish was the orzo, which was cold (intentionally) and mixed with pickled vegetables.  I didn't like the orzo salad very much because it just tasted tangy and cold and its pairing with the warm fish seemed strange.  

I really did like the fried calamari, which was sweet, sour and crispy all at once.  There was even a touch of heat from the red pepper.  My friend also said that the duck breast with waffle was very good so I would recommend that dish and the calamari for future visitors.  And not so much the goosefish.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chikalicious (NYC)

Dessert is all you want and all you shall have.

Chikalicious serves only dessert*, which seems so simple but yet is completely ingenius.   *I think they also serve sandwiches and other junk but I like to block that fact out as to preserve my respect for the purity of this establishment.

The restaurant is very petite and consists of a small bar area, the center of which contains the chefs, and a small row of seating.   You can either order a la carte or choose their 3 course prix-fixe menu.  The $12 prix-fixe consists of a small amuse bouche, an "entree", and a small dessert.  Keep in mind that all 3 "courses" are just desserts of varying sizes.   Your only choice in the prix-fixe is the entree, so each member of our party ordered something different.   

From left to right: (I've forgotten the actual, fancy names of the dishes so I will just make names up based on what I vaguely remember and what they look like from the pictures): amuse bouche of lemon sorbet in pool of lemony milk, chocolate and coconut sorbet with cubes of gelatin, mango sorbet with creme fraiche, corn ice cream in cherry sauce with slice of lemon cake, a "dance of fruits" or something

Each dish was very refreshing in both appearance and taste.  We all laughed at the "dance of fruits" name but when it was brought out, the plate was actually so beautiful that we were all jealous for not ordering it in the first place.  

The desserts were incredibly creative and the flavors were all complementary to one another.   You should definitely try Chikalicious if you're ever in New York City.  It will at least satisfy your curosity, if not your hunger.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ubuntu (Napa)

I thought I was a vegetarian until I had to be one. 

Well, for one meal really, because frankly, I was at a vegetarian restaurant.  Ubuntu is a much touted vegetarian restaurant in downtown Napa, that I'd visited over the summer.   Technically, Ubuntu is also a yoga studio, which is just adds another "wtf"-esque quality to the restaurant, in addition to the enigmatic name.  Alas, I have no comments for the yoga part of the establishment, as I was only there for dinner.  (And no, you cannot order yoga instructions on the side, or as a separate course.  Believe me, I tried.  Ok no I didn't.)

The restaurant is run by a husband/wife team.  The husband is the main chef while the wife is the pastry chef.  Judging by our satisfaction with the meal, I would say that the wife wears the pants in that relationship.  Although that is probably an unwarranted stretch just from the fact that we liked the desserts far more than the rest of the dinner.  

From left to right: polenta fries, corn grits, fried egg, pudding cake, corn flakes in sweet milk, chocolate ganache

One hiccup during the meal was when the waitress brought a different entree than the one that my friend had ordered.  We were pretty certain that my friend did not order a bowl of pureed orangeness but the waitress tried to convince us otherwise.  She could not, and it was awkward.  But in the end, Mindy got her corn grits and all was right with the world.  Except for my fried egg dish.  It was literally one hardboiled egg that was deep fried, surrounded by little scoops of potato salad.  It was interesting looking but did not exactly fill me up.  Also, it wasn't very flavorful, which was unfortunate.  Nevertheless, I was told that corn grits were actually pretty good and substantial.  

The desserts were very good, all three of them.  The chocolate dish was especially decadent thanks to the globs of ganache.   I almost couldn't eat all of it.  But with a little help, I was able to consume every last bit of sweetness.  I was also compelled by the need to fill the void in my stomach left by my actual dinner. 

I would say that Ubuntu is worth a visit.  Even if the entrees leave you wanting, at least it'll give you a good excuse to order dessert, which is not to be missed.

Foreign Cinema (Mission SF)

I love me a good french toast and some well-lighted spaces.

What struck me the most about Foreign Cinema was the arrangement of the restaurant.  Half the seating is outside and the other half is indoors.  The remarkable thing was that even the indoor seats received a healthy amount of natural light, which made the restaurant just a nice place to sit at (with the vines crawling up the brick walls and the little fireplace that probably does not light). 

But of course, no one goes to a restaurant to just sit (and no restaurant will let you sit for free either) so let's get down to what really matters, le food.  I was there for brunch a few months ago and was very impressed with the menu.  The dishes were as seasonal as brunch items can be (different lettuce for different seasons?) and tasted as lovely as they looked.

From left to right: baguette french toast with figs, baguette french toast with strawberries, fried egg with balsamic vinegar on salad and eggs benedict on radicchio (?)

I ordered the french toast with strawberries and they were supremely good.  I was a little wary of the baguette bread, honestly, because I was afraid that the holes in the bread would mean less french toast (I am a fatty, what did you expect?).  But my fears were allayed when I discovered that the bread holes were filled with rich, custardy batter.  The dish was definitely a bit heavenly.  Wait, I meant heavy.  Actually, I mean both those things.  Conclusion: french toast at Foreign Cinema is very enjoyable, especially on a nice sunny day.

2223 Market (Castro SF)

$12 Tuesdays are Fantastic.  

Especially if you have no school and work and can pretty much schedule your time around meal deals in the middle of the week.  Or, in my case, have too much time in between finals and need to eat something else besides canned soup. Even if it's premium Campbell's.  

2223 Market features hearty American cuisine, done up with nice organic ingredients as to not offend San Franciscan sensibilities.  I'd gone to 2223 Market for brunch a couple times before but never for Tuesday dinners.  I'm happy to report that the $12 dinner specials on Tuesday are actually a tasty and good value.  

From left to right: spicy pulled pork on top of a papusa ($12), mussels and clams on a bed of polenta ($12), vegetable rissotto ($12), brownie with a scoop of peppermint ice cream ($9).

All the entrees were delicious (especially considering the price), although the dessert did seem expensive in comparison.  But you can't always win (because you must always order dessert).  So all in all, I would definitely go back, awkward finals schedule, or not.