Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nick's Birthday Dinner at Plaj in San Francisco!

Plaj San Francisco

     If I were to ask you, "What is Scandinavian food?" what would you say? 

     Before coming to Plaj (pronounced "play"), I couldn't name a single Scandinavian dish. Luckily I'm not afraid of trying new things, because as it turns out, Scandinavian cuisine is not only delectable, but a feast for your eyes as well! Plaj is a Scandinavian and Californian fusion restaurant, unique even in the diverse city of San Francisco.


     Plaj is actually located inside a nice hotel in Hayes Valley. I would describe it as pristine and upscale, with white tablecloths and massive mirrors. 

Plaj San Francisco

     The menu takes advantage of it's Scandinavian origins. It is divided into four categories: Dagen (Specials), Hagen (Garden), Fyord (Sea), and Beta (Entrees). We decided to order an item from each unique genre, and patiently awaited our mystery dishes.

Plaj San Francisco
Rye Bread & Butter

     I enjoyed the presentation of the bread. Simple, straight and to the point: here is your Rye Bread, here is your butter, and here is your wooden paddle/knife, all basically placed on a wooden cutting board. This is something I could picture eating on a cold Scandinavian night. Also, the wooden knife reminded me of the wooden spoons they give you at the ballpark to eat your chocolate malts with. Yum.

Plaj San Francisco
Elderberry Gimlet and Lime

     All class!

Plaj San Francisco
Gioia Burrata, Organic Frilly Red Mustard Greens, Heirloom Tomato, Aquavit Vinaigrette
Topped with Rye Crumbs

     Who would think to put Rye Crumbs on a salad? Apparently Scandinavian-Californians would. And they would be right about it, because Nick and I agreed this was one of the best salads we've ever had. It wasn't just the Rye either, which was diced so finely we don't really understand how they even did it. The Aquavit Vinaigrette on the Organic Frilly Red Mustard Greens was perfection - just enough vinegar to offset the mustard greens, but not enough to make you pucker. Neither Nick nor myself are big on cheese, but let me tell you we were enjoying the Gioia Burrata by the forkful. It had a soft consistency and incredibly mellow taste. The Heirloom Tomatoes were big, chunky and sweet to offset the vinegar and add some texture to the burrata. 
    From the pillowy Gioia, to the leafy greens, topped with minutely-diced rye, to the soft crunch of the Heirlooms, the texture in this salad was almost distracting to the conversation. That's how unique and interesting it was. 

Plaj San Francisco
Sashimi of Halibut with Pickled Onion & Ginger, Crispy Garlic, Hot Dill Oil

     That said, the Sashimi you see (and I assume are mesmerized by) above was hands-down my favorite dish of the night. It takes the cake for it's absurdly beautiful presentation. I might add that there is zero filter on this picture, and I only had to take one. I could stare at this dish for days. 
     Of course, the dish was gastronomically impressive as well. The Halibut Sashimi was silky, buttery even, and melted in your mouth. The garnishing of Pickled Onion, Ginger, Crispy Garlic and Hot Dill Oil all complemented the subtle taste and smooth texture of the fish. 

Plaj San Francisco
Smoked Halibut and Salmon Fritters with Dill Aioli

     Next came the Fritters, filled with Smoked Halibut and Salmon, with a side of Dill Aioli. These were hearty and very tasty. 

Plaj San Francisco
Smoked Halibut and Salmon Fritters with Dill Aioli

     I love this picture because it clearly shows the delineation of the white Halibut (left), and peach Salmon (right) within the fritters.

Plaj San Francisco
Swedish Meat Balls, Potato Puree, Pan Gravy, Lingonberry, Pickled Cucumber

     If the Fritters are hearty, the Swedish Meat Balls are a meal all their own. These are not your average IKEA I-could-eat-twenty-of-these meatballs. We're talking tried and true beef, Scandinavian style. This means heavy meat, spices, and surrounded by Potato Puree, Pan Gravy, Lingonberry, and Pickled Cucumber. The light, crisp cucumber was a great juxtaposition to the meatballs, gravy, and potatoes. The Lingonberry was vibrant, sweet, and an amazing topping to the earthy meatballs. 

     Dishes at Plaj were fresh, fun and had impeccable presentation. The only hiccup we encountered was in the service. After being seated at our table for about 15-20 minutes, we finally had to hail down a waiter to take our order. Not sure what happened there. When we finally were assigned a waiter, she was extremely friendly and familiar with the menu, which was helpful. Overall, it was a delectable and exciting meal. I would absolutely recommend Plaj for a formal or special occasion. Oh, and our check came in an old Norway travel guide - so cute!

Plaj San Francisco

Plaj on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 17, 2013

Market & Rye

(photocred! Andrew Marks)
Me & The Bay

     “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” - Confucius

     Taking a quick, well-deserved break after a work event last week. The event took place in Potrero Hill on a sunny day, aka a city dweller's dream. The views up there, as you can see, are simultaneously breathtaking and sustaining. If we weren't so hungry we probably could have stayed up there all day.
      We headed down the hill and into Market & Rye, right before their massive lunch line formed. It was sunny and hot outside, and somehow sunny and cool inside. 
       Market & Rye is spacious and pristine, with white walls and tall windows which let the notorious Potrero sunlight come in and prance around. Also, they have board games (bonus points)! 

(photocred! Andrew Marks)
Brown Sugar, Rosemary & Black Pepper Crusted Bacon BLT
with Black Garlic Aioli, Roasted Roma Tomatoes, Sharp Cheddar, Greens on Sourdough

      I ordered the ridiculous, delectable piece of work you see above. I've had plenty of BLTs in my day, but this one takes the bacon cake. In fact, the bacon practically IS cake - Brown Sugar, Rosemary, and Black Pepper Crusted Bacon to be exact. Of course, a restaurant that puts this much care into their B must embellish their L and T as well. This sandwich also came with Fresh Greens, Roasted Roma Tomatoes, and Black Garlic Aioli on a Sourdough bun. And yes, it was as good as it sounds.

(photocred! Andrew Marks)
Market & Rye Wagyu Beef Burger
with Bacon, Housemade 1000 Island, Fried Egg, Cheddar on Brioche

     My coworker Andrew got the Market & Rye Wagyu Beef Burger, with Bacon, Housemade 1000 Island, Fried Egg, and Cheddar on a Brioche bun. This burger was just as innovative and tasty as my BLT. The combination of the fluffy fried egg and 1000 Island sauce made it like biting into a cloud - a somehow hearty, beef-filled cloud. Perfection.

Overall Experience

      Market & Rye is a fantastic local sandwich place. Their menu is innovative, with an intentional focus on giving a twist to a classic recipe. I am determined to return for their cornflake-crusted chicken sandwich, or at least something like it, as their menu changes often. 
     The atmosphere is casual yet serene, with an open, airy feel. And did I mention they have BOARD GAMES? They have board games. This place is worth taking a detour for. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Per Diem Restaurant: Downtown & Upscale in San Francisco

per diem restaurant san francisco

     Stepping into Per Diem is like stepping into the Great Gatsby. A giant glass-framed chandelier at the restaurant's entrance provides immediate shelter from the hustle and bustle of the Financial District. 

Per Diem Restaurant

per diem restaurant san francisco

     Vanessa, the expert sommelier and Assistant to GM Chris Parks, leads us to the bar where we are met with this neat contraption: 

per diem restaurant san francisco

per diem restaurant san francisco
Pimm's Cup
Pimm’s No. 1, Tanqueray Gin, Cucumber, Fever Tree Bitter Lemon

     There is a distinct 20th century, downtown-yet-upscale vibe to the restaurant. As we are lead to our dining table upstairs, we are accompanied by low romantic lights and deliberate, sophisticated decorations. We were ready for a feast.

per diem restaurant san francisco
Crispy Pork Belly
Cauliflower Mousse, Green Peppercorn Puree, Fried Egg,
Truffle Oil

     Now that's what I call an appetizer! The Crispy Pork Belly plate truly wowed me. The vivid fushia and bright yellow yolk of the fried egg are a mouthwatering backdrop to the juicy pork belly, center. The pork belly itself was tender and full of flavor, without being greasy. Perfect balance. Paired with the fried egg cauliflower mousse, truffle oil, and green peppercorn puree, it becomes quite the hearty and balanced dish. 

per diem restaurant san francisco
Oysters on the Half Shell

     Full disclosure: I am a sucker for all things seafood. These oysters tasted like they were drawn up from the foggy bay just moments before they were placed on our platter. Paired with the olive oil and herbs, they were a refreshing hor d'oeuvre before my hearty Italian meal.

per diem restaurant san francisco
Fries, Local Cheese Curds, Oxtail Gravy

     The Poutine Fries were very popular in our party. We referred to them as the gourmet "animal-style" fries, which is among the highest of compliments, let me assure you.

per diem restaurant san francisco
Schmitz Ranch Pork Ragu all’Arrabbiata, Shaved
Pecorino, Crispy Basil Leaf 

     My entree of choice was Per Diem's signature dish, the Bucatini - with Schmitz Ranch pork ragu all’arrabbiata, shaved pecorino, and crispy basil leaf. As I began to twirl my first nest of pasta, I recognized how and why this was the signature dish of a largely Italian restaurant. Taking my first bite, my suspicions were confirmed: this dish was no joke. We're talking robust flavor, hearty pasta and pork ragu, and ending with the comfort that all good Italian dishes do. Talk about comfort food! The light and crisp basil leafs were an amazing offset to the filling pasta. I brought my appetite to dinner, and left very satisfied.

per diem restaurant san francisco
Little Neck Clams, Arugula Pesto, Garlic, Chili

     For a lighter dish, there is the Tagliatelle and Little Neck Clams, with arugula pesto, garlic, and chili. I adore the healthy green color of the pesto on this seafood dish.

per diem restaurant san francisco
Short Rib
Braised Short Rib, Barley, Consume, Mushroom Capelleti,
Cultured Thyme Butter

     Carnivores will be pleased with the Braised Short Ribs, made complete with a healthy serving of barley, consume, mushroom capelleti, and cultured thyme butter

per diem restaurant san francisco
Sustainable Gulf Shrimp, Dungeness Crab, PEI Mussels, 
Calamari in Tomato Saffron Broth with Crostone

     Nick ordered the Cioppino, which was a delectable seafood stew containing sustainable gulf shrimp, dungeness crab, PEI mussels, calamari in tomato saffron broth with crostone. This one is great for a filling dish for those with a sea(food)tooth.

per diem restaurant san francisco
Mary's Chicken
Roasted with Zuckerman Farms Fngerling Potatoes, Zuckerman
Farms Asparagus, Chicken Jus

      We finish off with a classic dish, of Mary's Chicken, roasted with Zuckerman Farms fingerling potatoes and asparagus, and chicken jus. There really is a dish for everyone here. 

     I think it's safe to say that Per Diem provides a delightful dining experience on all levels. 
     Romantic, sophisticated vibes, reminiscent of the Great Gatsby era, settle you into the fine dining experience. This atmosphere compliments your meal whether you are on a date, with a group, or a businessman at the bar after work.
     Food itself at Per Diem is divine. From light seafood dishes to hearty Pork Belly and Bucatini, anyone can find something on the menu to fall for. Not only in taste, but in gorgeous, premeditated presentation as well. This goes very far with me. 
     Another thing that I really appreciate, coming from a food service job for years as an SF barista, is great service - another calculated amenity you can look forward to here. Vanessa, the sommelier I mentioned previously, is a true vituoso of her craft. She  checked on our table numerous times and even brought our party a bottle of champagne when she heard we were celebrating an anniversary! Our waitress was also extremely knowledgeable of the menu as well as super friendly. 
     With great food comes great responsibility. Per Diem steps up to the challenge, delivering prompt, friendly and skilled service, exquisite cuisine, and a comfortable yet refined setting to top it all off. I cannot recommend it enough.

per diem restaurant san francisco

Per Diem on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 8, 2013


     It was a hot summer's day in May. After strolling around farmer's markets and listening to local bands covering the classics, Nick and I decided to make an effort to find a good place for lunch. We settled on Opa!, a traditional Greek restaurant in Walnut Creek, and we were not disappointed.

The Food

 Grilled Solomos

     Nick ordered the Grilled Solomos, which is a grilled salmon filet on a bed of sautéed spinach, finished with Greek oregano and lemon-infused olive oil. It was served with Greek wedge potatoes and grilled roma tomatoes
     This light and healthy meal was a delight on such a warm summer day. The salmon was surprisingly juicy (they can easily turn dry), and the wedge potatoes were very tasty as well. 

Gyro Pita

     I ordered the Gyro Pita, which is a traditional blend of marinated lamb & beef gyro meat seasoned in special herbs and spices, topped with Tzatziki (cucumber yogurt) sauce and garnished with tomatoes, onions and mint. Served with a side of seasoned fries and aioli dip
     Needless to say, this meal definitely satisfied my hunger. Opa! is generous with their portions and their flavors. I especially enjoyed the fresh ingredients and flavor combinations of my gyro. The hearty lamb and beef is offset by the fresh roma tomatoes and cool Tzatziki sauce. The fries were seasoned well and I enjoyed the dipping sauce they came with.

Overall Experience

     We enjoyed our meal at Opa! The only thing of note to improve upon would be the service. The staff was friendly, but the food took quite a while to come out. We also noticed that a family who came in after us got their food before we did. However, when the food did make it's way over to our table, it was very good and worth the wait. 
     Another plus to consider is the ambiance of Opa! Looking around from our table you see tall, open windows, a high ceiling, and a clean and spacious dining room. You can tell a lot of money went into making this a nice Greek restaurant rather than a hole-in-the-wall. Not that hole-in-the-wall joints can't be good, but this is a specific dining experience with a bit of a more upscale quality. I would definitely recommend Opa! if this is what you are looking for in a meal.

Opa! on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Thep Phanom | Thai Cuisine

Thep Phanom Restaurant San Francisco

      Thep Phanom is a local restaurant specializing in Thai cuisine. I grew up eating their food. I remember my parents taking me here as a child and I always loved it. Walking in as an adult it was just like I remembered: fully decked out, no inch left undecorated. There were golden elephant statues, gorgeous tapestries, and cleverly-folded cloth napkins as you see above. 

Thep Phanom Restaurant

Thep Phanom Restaurant San Francisco
Tom Kha Gai 

     We ordered the Tom Kha Gai, or sliced chicken in coconut soup, to split. I had never tried coconut soup before, but I'm glad I did! The milky consistancy had a distinct lemon flavoring that almost made you pucker and made it a delight to eat. The flavor complemented the sliced chicken. Also, I really liked using the ladle. It's just fun!
Thep Phanom Restaurant San Francisco
Ped Sawan + Rice

I ordered the Ped Sawan, which is a marinated boneless duck in honey sauce that came with rice. Perhaps I should rephrase. It came with the cutest presentation of rice EVER! The handle sticking out the top of the rice belongs to a oar-like paddle, for you to ladle out the tiny carb packets onto your plate.

Thep Phanom Restaurant San Francisco
Ped Sawan

Lo and behold, my delicious Ped Sawan. That honey-colored sauce  ring you see is just that - a layering of sweet honey sauce which was drizzled over the marinated duck. The duck itself came on a bed of broccoli and cherry tomatoes. I couldn't dream up a better combination of Thai ingredients. The hearty duck was complimented not only with sweet honey but also guilt-free, antioxidant-rich broccoli and juicy cherry tomatoes. Perfection.

Thep Phanom Restaurant San Francisco
Kaeng Karee Gai

     Nick ordered the delicious Kaeng Karee Gai, or yellow curry chicken with onion and potato. This dish made us laugh because they really didn't skimp on the potatoes! The potato in this curry came in halves or quarters, not tiny little slices. The curry itself was full of flavor, and had a great kick to it without making you tear up. 
     Thep Phanom surprisingly rose to the high expectations often set by a warm childhood memory. The food was a delicious adventure, as was the ambiance. The friendly and prompt service complimented the meal to make for a great dining experience. The only thing that would make it better would be if they still handed out chocolate mints with the check at the end of the meal - specifically the flat little rectangles dressed in green foil. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a great neighborhood Thai experience, I highly recommend Thep Phanom!

Thep Phanom on Urbanspoon
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