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Ian F's Profile

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East Bay Seasonal Ingredients with Great Wine List?

When I was at Great China a few weeks ago, their wine list was sad. Few selections and nothing stood out. I don't know if there is a plan to replenish but it was clearly not evident.

Sep 13, 2014
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Barcelona/Madrid Honeymoon in May

Another option is to sign up for the Spanish Trails gourmet tapas crawl. We just did it and it was extremely memorable. We had one other couple with us but they can also do it as a private tour.

Regarding Club Allard in Madrid, maybe a phone call would have better results. We went there as well and it was wonderful.

Apr 15, 2014
Ian F in Spain/Portugal

Very specific New Year's Eve request

We went to Piperade a couple of years ago with another couple. Great food and just a couple of blocks from the fireworks.

Dec 18, 2013
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

30 minute radius of Aix-en-Provence?

Our plan for next April is to spend 5 nights in Aix-en-Provence. I'm thinking about spending the first couple of days exploring Aix and then driving around the countryside. It would be nice to end each day with dinner no more than a half hour from our home base (to avoid a long drive after a heavy meal and wine).

Any suggestions? Is this realistic? I have a free stay for those five nights, but if this isn't doable, I may have to consider staying elsewhere for some of those nights.

Thanks

Jul 23, 2013
Ian F in France

Patio seating in SF where the food is actually good

Nettie's Crab Shack on Union has a very nice patio and I'm a fan of the food and especially their Bloody Mary.

Jun 27, 2013
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Reasonably priced anniversary dinner in Santa Barbara

While Bouchon may be beyond your budget, it is not related to the Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, Las Vegas, or Beverly Hills. I would highly recommend it if you can make it work.

Apr 23, 2013
Ian F in California

Tickets and 41 Degrees, beyond the food

Thanks ksyoung, your report makes for a good read. We also ate at Hisop and had the same positive experience that you did. Loved Barcelona!!

Apr 23, 2013
Ian F in Spain/Portugal

Santa Barbara: El Encanto Hotel and Restaurant finally re-opening - March 18, 2013

I have a dinner reservation there in a few weeks. I asked about the corkage fee and was told its $35. Seems rather steep, but is the same as Bouchon charges on Friday and Saturday nights.

Does anyone have any comments on the wine list? Fairly priced? Wide selection?

Apr 07, 2013
Ian F in California

Tickets and 41 Degrees, beyond the food

My wife and I ate at both, on back to back evenings, this past November. I apologize for being tardy in posting this but feel I needed to let some time pass in order to reflect on the experience. You’ll also find my comments to be less about the food than about the whole dining experience.

If you are looking for further confirmation that the food is expertly prepared at both, I can give you that. The sheer nature of the number of dishes tasted at 41 degrees, results in there being some clear winners and then some that were less than extraordinary.

My wife and I found Tickets to be one of the most joyful meals we have ever had. Everyone who worked there seemed happy. Our waiter was highly personable, interested in what we liked, and created a tasting menu of one treat after another. He checked in just enough, to see if we were in need of either more food or wine. The ambience of the room was a treat for the eyes. You could choose to watch the intricate food being prepared, or the soccer game on TV, or the diverse crowd. Overall, it was fun, and after a two week trip to both Barcelona and Paris that included a number of top restaurants, Tickets is the one my wife still talks about.

I knew 41 Degrees would be different going in. I have had multiple course tasting menus at many restaurants. But it didn’t occur to me that because of the large number of courses, the waiter would come to your table so frequently, that it is virtually impossible to have any sustained conversation with your dining companion. The wait staff exhibited none of the warmth found next door at Tickets. I don’t know if that was because they take their jobs too seriously, or they are under such pressure from the kitchen to convey the food in just the right way. It also didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to go to the bathroom without stressing out the kitchen. I could hear our waiter informing the kitchen in hushed tones of my departure and the need to hold on whatever item was next up in the queue. When you add to this, the audio visual effects, which did nothing for the ambiance, I can’t recall a more joyless dining experience. It was like a foodies 3 hour death march.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say that Tickets is about you while 41 Degrees is about them.

Apr 04, 2013
Ian F in Spain/Portugal

Forge Pizza now open (Oakland)

Looks like a smaller version may be coming to Danville. It would be located in a space attached to the Lunardi's supermarket, where to date, many a Gelato shop has gone to die. Hopefully, it will do better. Sign says "coming soon".

Mar 24, 2013
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Input on my somewhat idiosynchratic Parisian dinner choices?

My wife and I are back and almost recovered from the jet lag. Our trip included a couple of nights at the beginning in London and 4 nights in Barcelona at the end, which I will discuss on the Spain board.

I apologize for the length of this and if I am providing too much non-food specific info, but I believe some of it speaks to the overall experience and my take on it.

Here is what we experienced in Paris:

Day 1, Tuesday: 8:00 Dinner at Joséphine Chez Dumonet.
After checking into our hotel, we walked to Rue Cler, grabbed some cheese for a snack, and then thought it would be fun to go to a wine bar for a while prior to our dinner. So we went to Willi’s Wine Bar. We arrived at 5:30, and we were the only ones there but the woman tending bar made us feel quite comfortable and suggested a Bandol from Provence, which was new to us, and it was excellent, and not the last time we had it during our visit.

About a half hour later, another American couple joined us at the bar, and we enjoyed a very pleasant conversation and actually knew some people in common. It turned out they were also eating at JCD that evening but had a reservation at 7:30. When we arrived at JCD, we were shown to the rear of the restaurant (I knew this was a distinct possibility based on previous reviews), where there were 4 tables, by the kitchen and bathroom. I was actually fine with all this as I had a bird’s eye view into the kitchen and thoroughly enjoyed being able to watch some of the activity. Of course, our new friends were back there too, and they introduced us to another couple – who it turns out – are from the next town from us in the bay area and again we knew people in common. The fourth table was finally occupied with 4 French businessmen.

I suspect that they assign waiters to this section that are somewhat fluent in English and/or have much patience. While we were quite versed with the menu, ahead of time, and what we were likely to order, our new friends were not and required a fair amount of handholding by the waiter. I believe our ability to be direct and not waste a lot of time resulted in some excellent service.

As for the food, we had the cold foie gras starter (full size to share), shared the duck confit and a half portion of the beef bourguignon, and had the Grand Marnier Soufflé for dessert. I thought all was outstanding and made for a wonderful first night in Paris.

Day 2, Wednesday: 8:00 Dinner at Crom'Exquis
In the end, we couldn’t resist blowing off the jazz dinner at the Relais Plaza and going here given our long history of visits to L'Esperance in Vezelay. We were not disappointed. While a limited menu for now, the cromesquis starters did not disappoint. I had a veal dish with a caramel sauce, while my wife had Volaille au Homard. Both were outstanding. We had great service with the chef’s wife working the front of the house and our waiter having previously worked at L’Esperance. The chef came out at the end and we talked at length about L’Esperance and what he wanted to do with his restaurant. I wish them the greatest success.

Day 3, Thursday: 7:30 dinner at Lasserre
We booked their Facebook dinner offer. It was advertised as a Menu at 100€ ttc (without drinks), with 4 dishes suggested by the Chef. It did not disappoint and they did not “cheap out”. Upon arrival, our waiter described the menu and asked if it was okay. It was better than okay. The four courses were their macaroni pasta stuffed with black truffle and foie gras, roasted sea bream, duck with foie gras, and chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream.

Of course, our bill was not 200 euros. By the time we had two glasses of Champagne to start at 35 a glass, a bottle of wine, sparkling water, and coffees, it was about 425.

So were we treated differently for having selected the “Facebook” offer? The only thing I detected and it may have been coincidental was that we were sat at a table closest to the kitchen and not directly under the movable roof. I think if you are looking for this type of Michelin starred experience, it’s a pretty good deal. BTW, I believe it’s not available on Friday or Saturday nights.

Day 4, Friday: 7:00 dinner at Frenchie (Not!)
I had made an online reservation, had the confirmation, and arrived at 6:50 to a dark and closed restaurant which remained that way until we gave up and left at about 7:15. So I guess they decided to close for a long weekend and decided not to bother contacting their one customer that managed to get an online reservation. Needless to say they won’t be on my list for future visits.

So my wife and I were left without a dinner reservation on a Friday night in Paris. After thinking about where we were, we decided to walk to Willi’s Wine Bar to see if they could take us for dinner. They could, and it was excellent. I had the best veal chop ever and my wife loved her beef.

Day 5, Saturday: 8:00 dinner at Il Vino
Perhaps they have modified the concept, but it wasn’t exactly as I had been led to believe either by reviews or by their website. My understanding was that you choose a wine or wines, and they then match food to it.

What we found on the menu instead, on the left side, was a list of a la carte items. On the right side was a typical 4 course paired tasting menu along with a more extensive blind tasting menu. We stuck to the right side and my wife had the former – the 4 course tasting menu, while I had the latter.

Things went along quite well for the first 4-5 courses. They would wait until I had tasted the wine and the food together and then ask me what wine I thought I was drinking. It was fun, and I was doing reasonably well on my guesses. And then I guess they got distracted/busy, and they stopped checking in, and I had to ask what I just had, and I’m not sure at that point that they really knew. I remember reading a similar account in someone else’s review, and I have to say if the restaurant is going to hang their hat on this type of thing, and charge fairly substantial prices, they should execute it well.

In the end, though, what was really surprising was that we thought the food was wonderful, but the wine rather mediocre.

Day 6, Sunday: 7:30 dinner at Café des Musees
Not too much to say here that hasn’t been said before. We were packed in pretty tight, had the Steak frites. Fun atmosphere, great people watching, interesting discussing the virtues of our presidential candidates with our waiter, given our limited French and his limited English.

Day 7, Monday: Wine Evening at Le Bristol in the 114 Faubourg restaurant.
This is a once-monthly Wine Tasting Evening, held the first Monday of the month. Here is how it was described: Evenings start at around 7:30 with a tasting flight of four wines during which the winemaker shares tales about the vintages he's pouring. The accompanying full-course meal, tailored to the wine choices (as opposed to vice versa) by Chef Desbordes, is a set 120 Euro.

Without a doubt, this was the # 1 dining experience / highlight of our time in Paris and I thought an extraordinary value. I would estimate there were about 20 of us in the downstairs section of the restaurant, which was set aside for this event. For the first hour, the wine maker would describe each wine, we would taste it, and then Marco Pelletier, the Head Sommelier at Le Bristol, would add his comments. This was accompanied with an array of hors d'oeuvres that were terrific.

While the talk was conducted in French, it was not hard for us to pick out key words that got across the key messages. Also, once Marco realized our French skills were limited, he was very good about coming over to us to give us a condensed English version of what was said.

We then sat down to the four course menu that was developed specifically to accompany the wine and that would then be available for the rest of the month in the restaurant. To our delight, we were seated on one side to the wine maker and his wife and on the other side to Marco. It turns out that the wine maker had studied at UC Davis and worked in Sonoma, so we had lots to talk about.

I can’t recommend this experience enough. We were made to feel extremely welcome. I would say that it probably helps to be a wine lover and to not be easily intimidated by an evening conducted primarily in French.

Salon du Chocolat: Yes, it was very crowded but lots of fun and a great way to spend a couple of hours. There were few lines for individual exhibitors and the slightest indication of interest was usually rewarded with a sample or two. Yum!

I really appreciate all the information I found on this board that helped me plan my trip and eating adventures. Can’t wait to return!

Nov 18, 2012
Ian F in France

Input on my somewhat idiosynchratic Parisian dinner choices?

I noticed one of your other posts mentioned Crom'Exquis. My wife and I have dined at L'Esperance many times and have very fond memories, so Crom'Exquis is my new Wednesday night reservation. Thank you so much!!

Oct 25, 2012
Ian F in France

Please help me with this list!

Both Chez George and Caius are closed Saturday and Sunday.

Oct 22, 2012
Ian F in France

Input on my somewhat idiosynchratic Parisian dinner choices?

Good to know. I'll either go with my Relais Plaza or find another alternative. Thanks

Oct 22, 2012
Ian F in France

Input on my somewhat idiosynchratic Parisian dinner choices?

As it turns out, my hotel informed me that Caius needed to cancel my Friday night reservation as they are renovating from October the 29th to November the 6th. There still appears to be lunch reservations available that week on Fork, but I'm moving on. In a case of reservation Karma, I was checking the Frenchie online reservation tool and found a reservation for that Friday night. So one door closes and another opens up.

Anyway, I'm about a week out from my trip, and everything else is about the same. I have a backup reservation at L'absinthe for the Wednesday night in case we decide not to do the jazz dinner at Relais Plaza.

Any last words of wisdom? I will post upon my return. Thanks.

Oct 21, 2012
Ian F in France

Best Wine Club with Over-the-top Food and Wine Events ?

For Merryvale, I am in their reds only club, and do love their wines. They are a bit overpriced but their pickup parties and liberal policies for bringing guests for tastings takes the sting out.

For Ceja, I love both their reds and whites as well as their recently introduced sparklers. It is a family business so there is a decidedly non-corporate feel.

I will have to check Caldwell out. Thanks for the recommendation.

Oct 11, 2012
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Best Wine Club with Over-the-top Food and Wine Events ?

Merryvale and Ceja do very nice pickup parties for their members. Merryvale events tend to be catered, while Ceja features amazing Mexican food cooked by the family. Check out their websites for more information.

Oct 09, 2012
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

If you had a $100 OpenTable gift certificate, how would you use it in the Bay Area?

I saved my $100 and used it La Folie. Didn't make it cheap, but took a little of the sting out of the bill.

Oct 05, 2012
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Paris 2 stars or 3 stars

I think its been a while since Jamin had any stars.

Sep 07, 2012
Ian F in France

Any Thin Crust Pizza in San Ramon/Dublin/Danville Area?

Jules Thin Crust in Danville:

http://www.julesthincrust.com

Also, has gluten free

Aug 30, 2012
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

41 Grados reservations stopped at 9/22

Yes, I saw that. Good that you got your dates. My dates are not up yet, but pleased that it is up and running again. Looks like they may have configured to allow for more tables for two.

Aug 30, 2012
Ian F in Spain/Portugal

Input on my somewhat idiosynchratic Parisian dinner choices?

Hi all:

First, I would like to say how much I appreciate the time put into many of these postings, They have been invaluable to my planning.

My wife and I will be in Paris at the end of October for a week.

We have been to Paris a few times but, this is the first time that we won't have a heavy touring schedule. Just planning on soaking it in and going where we feel each day. But I had to plan out the dinners. In choosing restaurants for dinner I tried for a blend of great food, romantic settings and fun. I would appreciate any feedback on my choices, especially, the more unusual ones (not often mentioned here if at all), that I identified partially based on the timing of our stay..

These are all dinner reservations:

Day 1, Tuesday: Joséphine Chez Dumonet

Day 2, Wednesday: Relais Plaza: They features their “Swingin Relais at Plaza Athenee” the last Wednesday of the month. Sounded fun to me – Jazz and good food. Has anyone done this?

Day 3, Thursday: Lasserre. Booked their Facebook dinner offer. It is a Menu at 100€ ttc (without drinks), with 4 dishes suggested by the Chef. Has anyone done this? If so, what were the dishes?

Day 4, Friday: Caius

Day 5, Saturday: Il Vino

Day 6, Sunday: Café des Musees

Day 7, Monday: Wine Evening at Le Bristol in the 114 Faubourg restaurant. This is a once-monthly Wine Tasting Evening, held the first Monday of the month. Here is a description: Evenings start at around 7:30 with a tasting flight of four wines during which the winemaker shares tales about the vintages he's pouring. The accompanying full-course meal, tailored to the wine choices (as opposed to vice versa) by Chef Desbordes, is a set 120 Euro and can be enjoyed within the group of wine connoisseurs or tête-à-tête, whichever suits your mood for the evening. Has anyone done this?

Also, the Salon du Chocolat is in town while we are there. Worthwhile or not?

Thank you in advance for any insights. I promise to report back, especially on the ones that are a little more idiosyncratic.

Aug 21, 2012
Ian F in France

41 Grados reservations stopped at 9/22

That's great. Thanks for making the call.

Aug 01, 2012
Ian F in Spain/Portugal

41 Grados reservations stopped at 9/22

New dates have not been added in some time. Anyone know why?

Jul 31, 2012
Ian F in Spain/Portugal

Wineries with picnic areas

Preston is nice, especially if you like cats.

Jul 16, 2012
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Patricia Wells: Food Lover's Guide to Paris is an IPHONE app!

If your Iphone is in airplane mode with no wifi, will any of the content of the app still be accessible?

Apr 21, 2012
Ian F in France

East Bay Rrstaurant for celebrating birthday

Postino in Lafayette would be a good choice.

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Postino
3565 Mt. Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549

Sep 06, 2011
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Canteen: Still My Favorite Brunch

Black. No additives.

Aug 30, 2011
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

40th Anniversary - Need advice for 2 dinners!

Totally agree. Ate there Saturday night and it was the perfect combination of great, vibrant food, perfect service, and terrific ambience.

Aug 29, 2011
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area

Canteen: Still My Favorite Brunch

Had breakfast at Canteen on Sunday. At 8:00 AM when they opened there were two other pairs waiting, all with reservations. No one else came in over the next 40 minutes we were there, which is amazing to me given the line we saw a little while later in front of Sears Fine Food.

Excellent from beginning to end. I had the Chupacabra and my DW had the big pancake. I also ordered the brioche. Maybe the coffee has changed from previous encounters. Mine was strong, hot, and tasted great as was my DW's decaf. Actually, tasted far superior to the Blue Bottle I had at the Farmers Market the morning before. That was the second time I have had Blue Bottle, and have not been impressed. I just don't get it, but I digress.

The only thing odd about our experience at Canteen was that we were told immediately that they did not have the salmon or the eggs benedict. Probably wasn't going to order either, but seemed strange they wouldn't have it ready to go.

Anyway, if I lived nearby, I would be a regular.

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Sears Fine Food
439 Powell Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Aug 29, 2011
Ian F in San Francisco Bay Area