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Sichuan Peppercorns & Chili Bean Paste in East Bay? SF?

I just saw Sichuan peppercorns at the Oakland Spice Shop on Grand Ave. across from Lake Merritt yesterday. Very convenient to Berkeley and a good place to find almost any spice. Their blends are particularly good.

Is Frances regularly so difficult to book?? [San Francisco]

I've never had a problem booking a table at Frances on OpenTable on the day reservations open (two months ahead), even though I usually go there on a Saturday night. In fact, I recently forgot to book until the afternoon and still got a 7 pm table for a Saturday in October. Perhaps I've been successful because I'm looking for a table for just 2 people?

Updated Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Recommendations [San Francisco]

Are you asking about places to eat inside the Ferry Building or outside at the market itself? Inside, the salads, soups, and sandwiches at Il Cane Rosso are good and take advantage of the seasonal produce. It's also possible to get indoor or outdoor seating there. Hog Island is good and has expanded but still has waits. I also like Delica if you're in the mood for lighter Japanese food. Outside, there are several good choices but these usually require waiting in line and finding seating can be a challenge. That said, I like Namu's Korean tacos and okonomiyaki, everything is good at Primavera (Mexican), and I've enjoyed some of the open-faced sandwiches at San Francisco Lox. I also agree with Melanie that Cremeux ex Machina gelato is excellent. They use ingredients from the market in many of their flavors. I'm less enamored of Humphrey Slocombe, and the line for ice cream there has been long every time I've walked by.

stone fruit 2014 bad season?

I go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, and the peaches and nectarines from Tory Farms have been delicious. Good texture and very sweet, especially the white varieties (specific varieties vary from week to week). I find that if you leave them out of the refrigerator for a day or two, they end up being absolutely perfect.

Help us Choose: Plum/Homestead/Oliveto [Oakland]

I'd recommend skipping Homestead. Although it's received excellent reviews, I found the food was only okay. In particular, a scallop entree I ordered was surprisingly lacking in both its combination of ingredients and cooking technique. Placing so-so slices of raw Asian pear on the plate with the pan-seared scallops didn't seem to add anything to the dish. I started with a soup, which was thin and unexceptional. I can't even remember more than that about it. Someone else at my table ordered an appetizer that included badly burned bread. I'd been looking forward to trying Homestead, but I came away feeling no desire to return.

Chino - guest vendor at Saturday's Ferry Plaza market in SF

I've been there two Saturdays in a row and tried everything except the chicken wings. The cucumber/avocado/seaweed dish was stronger the first time around, although I we may have had the very end of the supply the second time, when it seemed softer and more pickled (they'd already run out of the slaw on our second Saturday). The dumplings were tasty although a little thick-skinned. The soup was spicy and more substantial than it first appeared (especially at $10). The mixture of ingredients added just before serving definitely enhanced the flavor. I asked about the ingredients but unfortunately can't recall what they were, although dried shrimp and some form of pork were definitely among them.

For all you AQ lovers: TBD [San Francisco]

I also enjoyed my meal there a lot. In fact, I give TBD the nod over AQ, where my meals have been uneven and the service has seemed to worsen each visit. In contrast, our server at TBD was [enthusiastic and helpful, and everything we ate was both interesting and flavorful. The carrot dish, the scallop ceviche, and their version of a dolma (chard/feta/farro) were particularly notable. People at the adjacent tables also seemed very happy with their meals, and the dishes they ordered that we didn't looked great, too. Obviously, I disagree completely with the negative review in SF Weekly!

Caravaggio Gelateria Italiana, Downtown Berkeley - any reports?

We were walking by soon after they opened and decided to walk in. The person behind the counter offered us samples of a few gelato flavors (including a balsamic fig) as well as a taste of a fig sorbet. As I recall, everything we tried was fairly good, but the fig sorbet was so good that we ordered it.

Anderson Valley wineries

Just got back from tasting in the Anderson Valley. We tried some that were new to us: Drew, Baxter, and Knez. Based on what we tasted this weekend and in past visits, Knez was far and away the best. The winemaker is also involved with Ant Hill, and his capabilities show well in the Knez pinot noir and chardonnay, too.

Jul 29, 2013
amydeastbay in California

Best intimate French or other yummyspot in SF for a nice birthday dinner.

L'Ardoise just north of Market Street on Noe in SF (near the CPMC Davies campus) would be an option if you definitely want French. I haven't been there for awhile but have enjoyed my meals there in the past. The atmosphere is cozy/intimate, the staff is French, and the food is fairly traditional bistro style. Not sure that they do wine pairings.

Seafood For One; State Bird Provisions [San Francisco]

Based on th Block and Tackle menu, i'd say Local's Corner in the Mission would be most like it in SF and satisfy your search for a seafood dinner. I've only been once, but I liked the food, room, and service. Tight space but charming and tasty.

Lunch spots between San Fran and Sonoma

Unfortunately, the heart of Sausalito has a lot of bad food primarily geared to unfussy tourists. There are a few exceptions--for example, I thought Poggio was fine even if it didn't strike me as worth seeking out if I wasn't already in Sausalito--but my favorite lunch spot in the area is Fish. It's just north of town on the water and serves a variety of sustainable seafood.

Cremeux Ex Machina - California style gelato at SF Ferry Bldg Farmers Market on Sat - it's Yummy!

I've eaten the blueberry and the basil gelato and had tastes of a few of the other flavors (they change regularly). The texture was creamy without tasting fatty, and the flavors were fresh and true to their names. I definitely recommend trying it.

FYI, they're also at the Temescal Farmers Market in Oakland on Sundays.

Open July 4th

Thanks for checking. I did call again, and you're right: They are open. They also had more times available than shown on OpenTable. I'm not sure whether they changed their minds or the person I spoke with initially was misinformed, but now I'm all set.

Jun 25, 2013
amydeastbay in Los Angeles Area

Open July 4th

Yes, I saw it included as an available reservation on Open Table but called to be certain and was told that it wouldn't be open on the 4th. I actually made a reservation on Urbanspoon for Superba Snack Bar a few days ago, but now it isn't shown as open on the 4th. Neither of these sites seems to provide accurate information for this date, which is why I asked about other options.

Jun 24, 2013
amydeastbay in Los Angeles Area

Open July 4th

I made a reservation on Urbanspoon at Superba Snack Bar for July 4th, but now it appears it isn't open on the holiday. Open Table doesn't seem to provide reliable information either; I saw Tar & Roses listed as open on the 4th, but I called, and this restaurant also isn't open on the 4th.

Does anyone know which restaurants with interesting food and high-quality ingredients are open on July 4th, or is there someplace I should look to get accurate information?

I'll be visiting LA from the Bay Area, so I need to eat somewhere good! Location is flexible. Thanks for recommendations.

Jun 24, 2013
amydeastbay in Los Angeles Area

eliminate 3 out of 5; final itinerary decisions for 3 night stay

I have to disagree on the AQ vs. Commonwealth. I definitely find the food at Commonwealth more consistently interesting and flavorful, plus the service at Commonwealth is far, far better than at AQ. I've been to both several times and like them both, but AQ has yet to reach the level of Commonwealth. When I was there a few weeks ago, the servers bumped into me repeatedly while rushing by, our initial server went AWOL for most of the meal, other servers weren't informed enough to place the right dishes in front of the right person, and at one point one our entrees were delivered to the table behind us before the server realized this was a mistake. The food itself was a mixed bag; my softshell crab was ample and excellent, while my husband's fish (I think it was seabass) was tiny and very simple in both its taste and presentation. In contrast, our last meal at Commonwealth was strong across the board and our visiting friend--an adventurous eater--thought it was fantastic, too.

Mayday, mayday, grayelf on a collision course for SF Bay Area in... May

You are correct that Reveille is in a permanent spot with counter seating and a couple of tables. It serves both breakfast and lunch at its new location, and I've been impressed with the sandwiches and salads. Most recently, I had a grilled chicken banh mi that was quite flavorful. The salads on an earlier menu were also tasty and interesting: quinoa with persimmon and goat cheese; roasted carrots, cauliflower, and radicchio; farro with roasted brussels sprouts. They're taking a lot of care in the preparations and seem genuinely pleased to know that their customers are enjoying what they serve. Last time I was there, I wanted a sweet afterward, but the cookies I'd seen earlier were gone; I was told they were baking a new batch that would be ready in 15 minutes, so it's clear that they're baking there, too. I recommend the place if you're looking for more than coffee.

Oahu Trip Report

After posting my Kauai trip report, I thought I'd also post one for the Oahu portion of my trip, which included much more interesting food.

My favorite meal was dinner at Lucky Belly in Honolulu. The location is a somewhat sketchy street in Chinatown, but once inside, everything is great. I had the shrimp and kimchee ramen and ended up telling the manager/owner that it was one of the best bowls of ramen I've eaten anywhere. Even though we ate at the bar, the service was excellent. The cocktail was quite good, too.

We also had dinner at Restaurant Wada (a recommendation I found on this board), Town, and Salt Kitchen and Bar. We tried the tasting menu (the "course") at Wada, and I have to say this was the first time I ever liked any dish with tongue in it. The meal as a whole included a little more meat than I normally choose, but I particularly liked the cold noodles with the sesame sauce and ground tongue in it and the early seafood-based courses. The dessert of coffee jelly with banana cream was also far more appealing than it sounds. I'd recommend this Japanese restaurant to anyone in Honolulu. I was happy, though, to eat more veggies when I went to Town. The salad with baby mustard greens was both delicious and beautiful. The one slight disappointment at dinner time was Salt; I'd had high expectations after reading about it in Food & Wine magazine and found the food perfectly fine but not exceptional. The best dish by far was the gnocchi.

Our lunch time travels took us to the Heeia Pier General Store and Deli, which was a fun spot away from everything except the ocean. The mahi burger was messy and good, and the ahi cakes that came with rice and salad were also tasty if a little overcooked. We also tried the Whole Ox Deli in Honolulu one day and were surprised that the veggie pakora sandwich was far better than the burger, which had less flavor and a softer, greasier quality than we had hoped. The veggie sandwich could have used more of a kick from the harissa listed as an ingredient, but it was served on excellent pita.

We'd also hoped to go to Eat the Street and wandered through the trucks/stands as they were setting up, but our visit coincided with a rainy period in Honolulu, and the weather was too unsettled to make that a Friday night option.

Mar 08, 2013
amydeastbay in Hawaii

Chez Panisse Alternatives for tonight?

Have you considered Toast in Rockridge? The fairly new chef came from Zuni Cafe and features a lot of veggie small plates and salads as well as fish and a veggie pasta on the limited menu of larger plates. I've been there once for dinner and once for lunch and thought the flavors were light and fresh. At dinner, I liked the candle-lit atmosphere inside, and it wasn't noisy when we were there. The service was good both times, too. Another plus is that you can order wine by the glass or taste, and the latter is a generous pour.

Kauai Trip Report

Just returned from Kauai (and Oahu) so thought I'd report on what/where we ate and make some recommendations.

Our best dinner on Kauai was our first, at Josselin's in Poipu (we stayed on the south side of the island). Though the atmosphere was a bit sterile, the food was interesting and flavorful, the presentations appealing, and the staff enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the menu. We tried the deconstructed ahi sushi, shrimp dumplings with eggplant puree and yogurt (an Asian/Middle Easter mash-up that worked), the kale salad with an oxtail fritter (this was tasty and beautifully presented), and the butterfish. No misses among the dishes.

In contrast, I was very disappointed by Red Salt after reading positive things both here and in the NY TImes. The food, service, and space all fell far short of a fine dining experience, despite its efforts to do so on all fronts. Worst by far was my dish of seven-spice coated ahi with serrano ham, edamame risotto, and a "coconut cloud." I'd asked whether there were any vegetables on the plate and been told there was the edamame in the risotto. There turned out to be a chunk of bok choy that was so hard at the bottom that I couldn't eat that end, and the rest was buried in a heavy coating of thickened coconut milk. The ahi tasted unseasoned and was wrapped in a fairly thick and chewy slice of meat that definitely wasn't serrano ham. It's rare that I spend $36 on an entree, and this one certainly wasn't worth it.

Our other dinners were at Merriman's in Poipu and Bar Acuda in Hanalei. The latter was the better of the two, with decent wine and fairly good but overpriced tapas ($13 for a small dish of beets with a little goat cheese seems excessive even in a tourist area). The food at Merriman's was okay but almost exactly what I'd seen on the menu at its Big Island location six years ago. The place seemed indifferent overall, from the greeting at the door (almost nonexistent, and I overheard someone in another group comment about the person at the check-in desk, "She didn't seem too happy to see us.") to the glasses left on chairs at the empty tables around us. Our server was one positive note, although we were unpleasantly surprised, after asking her about the nightly ice cream and sorbet flavors, to see a $1.25 supplement for one of the flavors--pineapple! This seems petty when added to a $7 charge for two unadorned scoops of sorbet.

Our favorite lunch spot was the Mermaid Cafe in Kapaa, a simple window with a few tables out front. Both the ahi wrap and the tofu satay wrap were tasty, and everyone there seemed happy to be there. Breakfast at the Kalaheo Cafe was also good.

Also enjoyed going to the St. Regis in Princeville for a sunset drink. At least this time of year, the sunset and views are much better than those elsewhere on the island and the staff there make the experience festive.

Mar 05, 2013
amydeastbay in Hawaii

Hakkasan San Francisco opens today (link) Any reports?

I can provide a Day 2 report. Someone from LA who loves Hakkasan in London, isn't price sensitive, and likes to order a lot of food took us out to dinner there last night. Here's what we had (I just checked the online menu to be sure) and my impressions. It's a very long report because our host ordered so many dishes.

Cocktail: Lychee martini. I worried that it might be too sweet, but it was well balanced. This was the strongest item of the night.

Appetizers
--Steamed dim sum platter/fried dim sum platter: No threats to dim sum already available in SF (I'm a fan of Yank Sing, although I know not everyone on this board agrees with me). The steamed dim sum was bland and the wrappings somewhat thick and a little gummy. The fried items included cylindrical scallops; small, empanada-like shrimp; and something called a roasted duck and pumpkin puff. All were a little pale, and I ended up trying only the duck/pumpkin puff. It didn't really taste of either ingredient but had a reasonably pleasant texture. I asked someone else at the table what she thought about the shrimp item, and she said it just tasted fried.
--Pan-seared Shanghai dumpling: Like a potsticker. More flavorful than other dishes because it included scallions.
--Crispy duck roll: Crisp, a little greasy. Bland.
--Sesame prawn toast: Looked like a large, sesame-covered meatball. One of the better starters because the sesame added flavor.

Main Dishes
--Halibut claypot: Simple in taste and appearance. Only by looking at the menu now do I see that it included salted plums. Perhaps those were what looked and tasted like cherry tomatoes? Fresher seeming than many of the other dishes, yet most of this went uneaten by the group.
--Stir-fry lobster with tomato-chili sauce and cashews: There was lobster. There were cashews. Surprised to see there was tomato-chili sauce.
--Roast chicken in satay sauce: A more flavorful dish. As promised, this tasted like satay. The chicken was tender. But isn't Hakkasan supposed to be Chinese?
--Sweet and sour pork tenderloin with pomegranate seeds: A more refined version of the sweet and sour pork of my childhood because the pork was thinner and leaner. Others at the table, including our host, loved it, but I may be too much of a food snob to truly enjoy sweet and sour pork. Plus it was too sweet. And where were the pomegranate seeds?
--Lamb chops with XO barbecue sauce: I didn't try these, though others liked them. I'm not a big fan of lamb, and the appearance of this dish didn't lead me to reconsider.
--Two vegetable dishes; Mushrooms with macadamia nuts/stir-fried snap peas, cloud ear, and water chestnuts: I really wanted vegetables to be part of this meal (the mushrooms were my only request of the night), but these were boring and boring. Shiny and bland. The macadamia nuts added a little texture.
--Chicken fried rice with salted fish: Our server's recommendation, and one of the best dishes because it had some flavor.
--Lobster with noodles: Only okay. The lobster was awkward to eat with chopsticks because it was still partly in the shell and the server portions a piece with the noodles into small bowls. The lobster was fine (it's lobster), but neither the green noodles or the sauce had much flavor.

Desserts
--Chocolate orange; Our server's favorite but not mine. The presentation was interesting--an orange-shaped chocolate ball and some other things that I never fully identified. She poured a thick chocolate sauce over the ball when it arrived at our table. Too much chocolate on chocolate for my taste..
--Coconut pudding: Presented in a large glass like a stemless wine glass with a dried pineapple slice draped on top. Tapioca pearls with coconut milk pudding. Not bad and lighter than the other desserts.
--Apple tatin: Their take on apple tarte tatin? A gold/brown rectangle with a scoop of something else next to it. Okay.
--PB&J: The dessert that appealed to me the least in theory but the most flavorful of the bunch. A cylinder of (frozen?) mousse that wasn't overwhelming in its peanut butter flavor, a banana half, and a couple of other things I didn't identify. When I'd heard jelly, I'd feared grape; banana worked.
--Macaroons: Looked like French macaroons and were described as yuzu, blood orange, salted caramel, and jasmine tea. I tried yuzu. I love French macaroons, but this was more like filled meringue. Our host wasn't impressed by these either.

The room wasn't as dramatic or dazzling as I'd expected. The crowd seemed to be on the younger side. The service was friendly, with everyone eager to please, which I hadn't expected from a hot new high-end restaurant. For me, that and the cocktail were the highlights. I'd eat and spend my own money elsewhere.

Fire at China Village (Albany)

I'm just glad to hear that China Village will be back. The place looks so deserted and untouched that I thought it was gone for good.

Cool / offbeat romantic in North Beach/Chinatown/FD [San Francisco]

I don't know about a "particular protocol" at Da Flora, but the service at our table was perfunctory at best whereas I noticed that people who seemed to know the owners also seemed to get a warm welcome and a wonderful experience. This was very disappointing because I'd enjoyed my meal the first time I went there (the owner was somewhat gruff but more friendly that first visit) and looked forward to returning. But the second experience was bad enough that we never wanted to go bac again.

Cool / offbeat romantic in North Beach/Chinatown/FD [San Francisco]

How about Txoko? It's in the old Enrico's space and has character without being fussy/fancy, and I always enjoy the chef's food.

Sweet Woodruff, SF w/ pics

I've eaten here a few times, and I would recommend it. The Argentinian-style chicken sandwich I had last time was particularly good; it featured chimichurri sauce, green beans, avocado, and a couple of other items I don't recall at the moment (plus chicken, of course). My husband is very fond of the portobello sandwich. The only thing I've eaten there that I didn't particularly like was a tomato, basil, and mozzarella quiche on the brunch menu. it was very low on tomato and had a very loose, overly custardy texture; the cheese seemed lost in the mixture, too. The salads look good, although I haven't tried any of them.

One upscale restaurant in Berkeley?

In general, "Berkeley" and "upscale" don't go together. There are good restaurants, of course--just not fancy ones. A couple of places to consider that fit your "California" category are Rivoli on Solano Ave and Cafe Rouge in the Fourth Street shopping area. Cafe Rouge is more consistent in its use of local, seasonal ingredients, and parking will be easy. Rivoli has a more charming space and the food and service can be quite good, although I've encountered occasional lapses in both. Either would be a good choice based on what you've described.

Best in Seattle - in town for 3 days

I lived in Seattle recently and can recommend the following:

High end/fancy/great: Bookbindery. Best combination of food, service, and ambiance I found in Seattle. If "fancy" is less important, go to Cascina Spinasse.

Cool/hipster/local: This means a pretty casual place in Seattle. Quinn's would be a good option. You want to check out Capitol Hill in general. Skillet is a fun spot in this category, though more for breakfast/lunch (they serve at dinnertime, too). If you want someplace with local ingredients and a little different (though not completely "hipster" or "cool"), try Poppy, which uses Northwest ingredients as part of a thali-style meal (contrary to what some people in Seattle say, it's not Indian food). If you're willing to wait for hours, try Walrus & Carpenter in the Ballard neighborhood for Northwest seafood. It's not dramatically different from a fresh, slightly creative New England seafood restaurant (I lived in Boston for a long time, so I know), but it's consistently good. The downside is that they don't take reservations and you'll wait a long time.

Ethnic: Contrary to popular belief, this is not a strong point in Seattle. Definitely avoid any so-called Indian food. I wouldn't recommend Thai food either. I really enjoyed Sushi Kappo Tamura in the Eastlake neighborhood for its fresh fish and small plates. If you want something that crosses the ethnic/cool categories, go to Revel in Fremont. The food is fun and flavorful.

Jun 13, 2012
amydeastbay in Greater Seattle

British style Indian restaurant

I recently tried Tastebuds based on the recommendations here, and I was extremely disappointed by the food. It was mediocre at best and not at all spicy. The flavors were dull and one-dimensional. Of everything we tried, only the naan was satisfying. I wasn't surprised that the service and ambiance were lacking, but I expected much more of the food. I would not advise going here.

From San Francisco; I want to eat good food, and have been hugely disappointed

I'd stay away from Mistral Kitchen, which has been my worst dining experience in Seattle to date. The food was okay if uninspired and significantly overpriced, but the service was a disaster. Our server told us that he wasn't familiar with the menu, called over the chef when we asked about wine, came very close to spilling the cocktails, and eventually disappeared from sight completely. I'd gone there on the basis of positive reviews here and elsewhere expecting a fine dining experience yet entered a space that looked so much like part of the bar area that I needed to confirm with the person who seated us that we were indeed in the dining room. Not recommended!

Feb 27, 2012
amydeastbay in Greater Seattle