Saturday, October 24, 2009


A Fall dinner at Commis in Oakland.  The food is sophisticated and creative, imparting a strong sense of the chef's personality.   The meal aimed to entertain the palate.  The many offerings ranged from something fun like red shiso soda - so brightly colored and fizzy that it looked like old fashioned soda from a soda fountain, to a poached egg and pork belly with black garlic - common ingredients paired with the unique flavor of an unexpected element.  Then an expertly prepared guinea hen with leg confit, high on flavor and style.  And for dessert, a whimsical take on celery and peanut butter. 

Overall, a nice departure from straightforward execution of crowd pleasing standards.  Hooray for expressive cooking!  I look forward to returning to see what's offered when the season changes. 

Here's everything we tried (the menu is from A's memory):

Red Shiso Soda - brightly colored sweet sparkling soda packing a good punch of sweet and sour, a nice way to wake up the palate. 
Hen Egg Yolk over onion soup date puree and sesame

Beet salad

Poached Egg, pork belly, black garlic - I love this use of black garlic. The pungent garlicky and slightly sweet flavor played nicely against the hearty yolk and fatty pork belly.

Monterey Bay squid w/turnips

Kabocha squash soup w/some kind of cream, vegetables, and herb (kaffir lime?)

Cod over celery puree, mustard, vegetables

Sirloin tip cap, fennel salsa verde, wilted spinach, pearl barley, some kind of celery/rhubarb - The description didn't sound as exciting as the actual dish.  Fork tender beef with a combination of salsa verde and spinach that came together as a multi-dimensional mix of flavors.

Guinea Hen breast w/ leg confit, caramelized sunchokes and chanterelle mushrooms - this was my favorite of the night.  I anticipated the meat to be dry or tough.  It came in one piece with both breast and leg confit in one roll, so simple looking but skillfully prepared -- tender, juicy and perfect with the earthy flavor of mushroom and sunchoke.

Roquefort with plum compote and pistachio

White Cheddar Cheesecake with green apple and toffee threads

Celery Cake with celery ice cream over grape jelly and crushed peanuts - an interesting play on celery with peanut butter. 

Absinthe gelee

Monday, October 19, 2009


It seems like there's a standard menu floating around the city: frisee salad with a poached egg, some sort of pork belly, hamburger, and pizza.  It could be the economy, an idea that city diners want to eat the same thing wherever they go, or simply lack of guts to cook from one's own perspective.  That's why it was so refreshing to go to a place like Namu

The menu is a mix of small and large plates that make for a Korean style family meal.  The first thing on the table is panchan, three types that were all light and gentle rather than pungent, a good way to start the meal with something well balanced that doesn't punch the lights out of your taste buds.  Our first course was with Hog Island Oysters, served with yuzu ponzu, wasabi and a chojang korean chili sauce.  The oysters were fine their own, both the sauces overpowered their sweet taste.  After trying oysters with various sauces, dashi broth and similar acoutrements, my personal bias is for quality raw oysters with minimal adornment.   Next came the uni shiso tempura, cucumber & kaiware salad with lemon soy vinaigrette.  I'm not sure about this tempura, it had a mild uni flavor though the salad was a good compliment to the flavors.  My dining companions enjoyed it.  

Chinese long beans, boccalone guanciale, trumpet mushrooms, korean chili threads and tofu seasme puree.  These were lovely and the guanciale was like fried pork belly, perfect little salty accents standing in for the traditional chinese preparation that uses salty ground pork.  

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Looking for soup and menudo, so we ended up at El Delfin.  The menudo was full of tripe in a thick and deeply flavored red broth.  The tendon and tripe were prepared so that each piece was thin and tender.  My only issue with the dish was that the stew broth was too thick and strong, almost a stew. 

The chicken soup was more of a soup with good chicken flavor and chock full of vegetables.  One of the better chicken soups I've had in the Mission.  Perhaps it was because they were busy, but I recall that they used to serve freshly fried tortilla chips.  No such chips on this occasion.  In any case I'll trade the fresh tortilla chips for the comfort that they'll be in business for a while.  I was glad to see that they were busy, I used to worry about them a little when I so often found the place empty.

Everytime I dine at El Delfin I get either the prawns with chile de arbol or with chile chipotle.  Yes, I know, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.  I just can't help myself, I'm a chile head.  This time I went for the chile de arbol which was exactly as I remembered it, buttery, garlicky and addictively spicy.

Previous Post on El Delfin

Friday, October 16, 2009

ONE MARKET Duck Menu**

One Market has been doing a series of whole animal menus every week.  We decided to give their duck menu a try.  Every dish of the five course menu was made from Muscovy Duck.  It had been a while since I last ate at One Market and it was nice to find that the place hasn't lost a beat. Yes, the decor and vibe is a little corporate, but that's what you would expect from a place located at the foot of a major office building.

On to the food.  It started with the liver mousse terrine, a huge portion of creamy liver with a beautifully light texture served with pickled figs and a plate of their own brioche.  Just what I wanted smooth strong livery goodness against the sweet tart figs.

 Next came the salad with a piece of duck proscuitto which was nicely seasoned and balanced, and a tender piece of gizzard that worked well with wild mushrooms.  A good way to refresh the palate after being hit by the richness of the mousse terrine.  

The duck confit came as a small pile of leg meat surrounded by a red wine risotto.  The confit showed of the deep duck flavor and risotto was a nice slightly acidic accompaniment.  The fourth course was probably my favorite of the meal.  Slices of duck breast with a huckleberry side and a spice gravy.  The sweet potato pureee with vanilla had a surprisingly strong vanilla flavor, but everything worked well together.  A slightly acidic sauce, the sweet huckleberries, the salty savory roasted duck and the base note of vanilla.  

Dessert was a deeply satisfying pot de creme that perfectly contrasted with the vanilla bean cream layered on top,  and a goofy little duck chocolate standing on top.  

The pot de creme with the side of salted caramel ice cream was a nice combination of creamy, salty and sweet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm not one that craves burgers.  Yet I have not been able to resist the temptation of making a weekly visit to Mission Street Food's Mission Burger.  The stand is run by two chefs that that used to man the stoves at Bar Tartine.  And they prepare everything with care -- the burger is a well seasoned blend of brisket, short rib and chuck formed into a column of meat.  It's then cut into burger patties so that the grain of the meat is lined up and cut against the grain creating a burger tender to the bite.  The burger then gets a good char on the flat top with beef fat giving it that old school greasy spoon diner flavor.  The beefy goodness is accompanied by a toasted Acme bun, caper aioli, jack cheese, well carmelized onions and a garnish of grilled hot peppers.  Their caper aioli has a zing to it, but the burger could use a bit more of an acid element.  Instead of ketchup, I opt for a cup of their tangy mint lemonade which cuts right through the rich burger.  Good combination. 

After a few visits, I began to sample the specials.  Their perfectly fried halibut, with a light crispy batter hit the spot on a hot day.  Another time they were topping the burger with a Soul Food Farms fried egg and Benton's Bacon.  I'm a sucker for runny egg yolks.  As much as I enjoyed the rich yolk and bacon, it was a bit over the top.  

The guys recently added chili cheese fries to the menu.  A meaty chili with a spicy kick over their crispy fries.  If I didn't crave their burger so much, I'd just order these fries for lunch. 

Because I'd been happy with everything they'd ever fed me, I decided to really put myself in their hands by trying the vegan burger.  Yes, I have eaten at Millenium and Cafe Gratitude, but other than that, I have never purposely ordered or knowingly eaten anything vegan.  These guys start with their own patty of mushrooms, edamame and some other good tasting stuff, fried, then topped with crunchy fennel slaw and a chili paste that looked like sambal olek. 

The vegan patty didn't hold together as well as the beef burger.  A nearby diner admired my eating gusto and commented that I was making a mess like one of those sloppy burger commercials.  Aside from the soft texture of the patty, I wouldn't change a thing about the vegan burger -- it was delicious and, to my surprise, almost as hearty as the beef burger.  I would definitely order this again. 

Corner of 18h & Mission inside Duc Loi Market.