August 8, 2008

San Francisco, CA

This year's RWA conference took me to the city of San Francisco and I took the opportunity to try out several restaurants.

First stop: Lunch at The Lark Creek Steak House located in the Westfield San Francisco Centre at 845 Market Street on the 4th Floor. Lovely genteel, urban chic decor, and a very fun menu. I had the the jb black truffle steakburger with truffled brie cheese, black truffle vinaigrette, frisee, and caramelized onion marmalade. A nice blend of flavors and very rich, though my medium rare was a bit more rare than I anticipated.

That afternoon, I had high tea at the Neiman Marcus Rotunda. I had been teased by the idea of tea at the Windsor Tea Room in the King George Hotel, but alas it was only available on the weekend and one had to "make do" with the Neiman Marcus, which serves it every day. It came with a lovely assortment of tea sandwiches and tarts, but the tea selection was somewhat limited. I still enjoyed the White Lotus, though. And the view from the Rotunda is impressive.

Late that night, I took in dinner at Michael Mina's, located in the Westin St. Francis hotel on Union Square. Michael Mina has been named Bon Appetit's "Chef of the Year 2005", San Francisco Magazine's "Chef of the Year 2005", and "Restaurateur of the Year 2005" by the International Food and Beverage Forum. The restaurant features an opportunity to create your own prix-fixe, three-course dinner. The restaurant boasts two Michelin Stars. I chose the foie gras appetizer, a selection of three tasting dishes, including sleek cigars with pressed watermelon and serrano ham, a grilled sample with melon compote, and a terrine with a short rib base. All were expertly rendered, of course, though I discovered I wasn't personally fond of the texture in the third part of the dish. I followed this with three slices of duck breast, each accompanied by a complimentary fruit: apricot, cherry, and a tangerine/peach compote. I finished my meal with a selection of cheeses -- monte enebro with tomato compote, malvarosa with dried figs and red onion marmalade, and brescianella stagionata with a porcini syrup and some toasted hazelnuts. Our server - Drew - was perfect. It was an amazing meal. Possibly one of the best I've had in my life. But the meal I had five years ago at Jean Georges in New York still reigns supreme.

The next night I had dinner at Le Colonial, hidden away on Cosmo Place, a small unprepossessing alley. It led to a surprisingly lovely courtyard with open-air seating. The cuisine is French-Vietnamese. I started with Goi Cuon Ca Thu, a seared ahi tuna roll with rice noodles, English cucumber, and cilantro, served with ponzu sauce. It was crisp and wonderful - perfect for summer. For my main meal, I chose Suong Ham, braised short ribs with leeks and shiitake mushrooms and an anise broth. It was a marvelous dish - the beef so tender and full of flavor. For dessert: the mango tart -- sweet mangos sauteed in brown sugar and mango rum, served inside a puff pastry, with coconut macadamia icecream. Decadent, and a wonderful end to a great meal.

My final culinary stop was Asia de Cuba, located at the Clift hotel on Geary Street. I was drawn to this one because of the unusual flavor combination of asian and cuban food. The meal opened with tunapica, a tuna tartare picadillo style with a poignant soy-lime vinaigrette and interesting texture added by the wonton crisps. And then for my main dish I had the calamari salad, with chayote, hearts of palm, banana, cashews, chicory, and a sesame orange dressing. Really enjoyed that one. It was only afterwards that I learned the same group owns a restaurant in New York, which I will have to find an opportunity to try out.

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