Sunday, April 28, 2013

Maven SF | Lower Haight

Maven Restaurant San Francisco
Oysters on the Half Shell, Chinatown Duck Sliders, and Roast Suckling Pig

     I always love when a dining experience feels like an adventure - achieved with unique plates, fun flavors and a comfortable ambiance. Dining at Maven is a great example of such a culinary adventure.

Maven Restaurant


Maven Restaurant San Francisco
Our 2nd floor view

     Maven SF is comfortable yet hip, romantic yet fun. I came here on a Friday date night with my boyfriend Nick, and we chose to sit upstairs where we got a great view of the restaurant! I loved looking down at the scenery - from the beautiful brightly colored lamps, to the green tapestry above the bar, and all the trendy patrons in between.

The Food 

Maven Restaurant San Francisco
Oysters on the Half Shell w/ lemon and sauce finadene

      We started with these gorgeous Oysters on the Half Shell. They were cool, fresh and invigorating. The sauce finadene that came as a topper was light and flavorful.

Maven Restaurant San Francisco
Chinatown Duck Sliders, w/ shiitake, chinese greens, bacon

          Next came these flavorful Chinatown Duck Sliders, adorned with shiitake mushrooms, "chinese greens" (I'm assuming Bok Choy?), and bacon. What a great melting pot of flavors. This was Nick's first time tasting duck, and I'm pretty sure he's sold on it now. That should give you an idea of how good these sliders were. Full of flavor, and with healthy greens. The duck itself was delicious and juicy - not at all too chewy. Loved them!

Maven Restaurant San Francisco
Roast Suckling Pig w/ earl grey prune, maitake, artichoke, and mashed potatoes

     Finally, we rounded out our meal with the hearty Roast Suckling Pig, which came with earl grey prunes, maitake mushrooms, artichoke, and mashed potatoes. We both enjoyed this plate as well. I don't care for mushrooms or prunes, but the artichoke, mashed potatoes, and pork were absolutely delicious.  

Overall Experience

     We had a great time at Maven. The food was delicious and prompt, even on a Friday night and with a full house. Our table on the upstairs level had it's own hostess/waitress, and she was delightfully friendly and knowledgeable. To tie the experience together, the lovely ambiance set a trendy, romantic mood to the dinner.


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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Alphabet Dining, Letter G : Gamine

Gamine Restaurant San Francisco
The girls, the guys, escargots and egg burger on french roll


Gamine French Bistrot 



     For letter G of our Alphabet Dining, the votes aligned to Gamine, a French spot in the Marina district known for it's burgers. Fun fact: "Gamine" is a French word describing a mischievous woman, such as Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffanys" (who just so happens to be one of my idols). The website doesn't explain the connection between this and their food, which leaves me curious!  


Gamine Restaurant San Francisco


Starters 
    
Gamine Restaurant San Francisco
Mmmm Escargots & garlic butter!

     A French staple, escargots (snails) never disappoint. Gamine seasoned them deliciously with a thick garlic butter, and served them on a sophisticated white doily. 

Becca's first escargot!
Becca's first escargot!

     Upon discovering that Rebecca had never before tried an escargot, we of course insisted that she try one now. She was a trooper not only because it was her first one, but because she had just removed 2 wisdom teeth a couple days before! 
Entrees

Gamine Restaurant San Francisco
Veggie Burger
Peppers & zucchinni sauteed w/olive oil & scrambled egg, avocado on french roll
Fries & aioli | Seasoned mixed greens

     We all ended up getting burgers (yes, even poor Becca with her sore jaw), since Gamine is known for them. Since everyone ordered the Basic Burger, I opted for the Veggie Burger. Instead of a patty, my burger came with peppers & zucchinni sauteed w/olive oil and scrambled eggs, and topped with avocado on french rollFries, aioli, and seasoned mixed greens came on the side.

Gamine Restaurant San Francisco
Veggie Burger w/ peppers, zucchini, avocado & scrambled egg on french roll

     I was expecting more of a veggie patty resembling a burger, but perhaps this is my fault for not inquiring more on my order. The ingredients were all flavorful and fresh, but I would consider this more of a sandwich than a burger. Also, the "veggies" turned out to be 90% bell peppers and 10% zucchinis. I would have preferred more variety. I paid extra to have the avocado added.  
     I would have also preferred more flavor in the aioli that came with the fries - it was a bit bland for this American ketchup-lover, but again, that is simply my personal preference.

Gamine Restaurant San Francisco
Basic Burger w/egg on french roll | Fries & aioli

Gamine Restaurant San Francisco
Basic Burger w/ bacon on french roll | Seasoned mixed greens

     The Basic Burger with bacon was delicious! It was full of flavor and hearty without giving you a food coma, and came with a side of seasoned mixed greens.

Gamine Restaurant San Francisco
Basic Burger w/cheddar cheese on french roll | Fries & aioli | Seasoned mixed greens

     Chester ordered the Basic (Cheese) Burger. He enjoyed it, but said it was nothing to write home about. Just your average cheeseburger.

Overall Experience

     All in all, our experience at Gamine was pleasant, but stopping short of extraordinary. The service was good - friendly, knowledgeable, and with a French accent! The venue was quaint, romantic and sophisticated, and our seat by the large window shone a nice, natural light onto our plates. 
     Unfortunately, the food left something to be desired. I had heard great things about Gamine's burgers, and was not especially impressed. I expected my veggie burger to be in a patty, and would have preferred more variety in the veggies (it consisted of 90% bell peppers and 10% zucchini). While the Basic Burger w/bacon and the Basic Burger w/egg were flavorful, the Veggie Burger and Basic Burger w/cheddar cheese were just okay. Seemed to be a bit of a hit-or-miss situation. Also, the aioli that came with the fries was too bland for my taste.
     tl;dr - Meh food, good service. Would recommend for a casual weekday dinner but not for a special occasion. 

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Hidden Gem: Box Restaurant in San Francisco

Box Restaurant in San Francisco
Box Burger w/ bacon, spinach, crispy shallots | Chicken in Waffles w/Sriracha maple syrup

     San Francisco has two categories of great food. One is comprised of high-end restaurants, run by world-famous chefs and boasting Michelin Stars. The other is comprised of local Hidden Gems. Many of these Hidden Gems are tucked away out of the limelight but worth their weight in gold. Box is one of these Hidden Gems.

Box Restaurant in San Francisco

     This is not a sit-down restaurant. It is a trendy hole-in-the-wall joint with a friendly, engaging staff and colorful lights that fade in and out through the entire color spectrum. 

Box Restaurant in San Francisco
     As you wait for your food, it isn't unheard of to mingle with the patrons around you. People of all ages and styles were there the night we went - from young hipsters to older San Franciscans. All were friendly and excited for their food. Some were Box regulars. I happened to meet someone with the same name as me, which was fun. She said that maybe we were twins and I was the light side and she was the dark. You never know who you'll meet in the city. The wait wasn't long, about 10 or 15 minutes - just long enough to meet some new people but not so long that you're ready to run.

Box Restaurant in San Francisco
Box Burger - Grand Schmitz Ranch Chuck Burger
w/ bacon shallot gastrique, white cheddar, spinach, tomato, crispy shallots, potato pepper bun

     Feast your eyes on this! When I mention San Francisco's Hidden Gems, this is what I'm talking about. I ordered the Box Burger - which consisted of Grand Schmitz Ranch Chuck, bacon shallot gastriquewhite cheddar cheese, spinach, tomato, crispy shallots, all enclosed in a delicious potato pepper bunWhen was the last time you got a burger with fried shallots and true leafy spinach greens like this? Usually they just slap on some iceberg lettuce, devoid of any real nutritional value or flavor and call it a day! The Box Burger I ordered was absolutely PACKED with flavor, and interesting tones I had not previously tasted on a burger. The crispy shallots and bacon shallot gastrique gave it a truly earthy, rich flavor. It really hit the spot.

Box Restaurant in San Francisco
Chicken IN Waffles & Sriracha Maple Syrup 

      Michelle ordered the equally delectable Chicken in Waffles. Nope, that was not a typo - Chicken IN Waffles. As in, the waffles had chicken inside of them. If this wasn't enough of a treat, they came with a side of Sriracha Maple Syrup! I don't even like hot sauce, and I have to admit I loved this combination. Though I question how it first came about - who dared combine the two?? Defying all logic, the sweet maple mixes well with the spicy Sriracha sauce, giving a great kick to the classic chicken and waffles. The perfect late-night snack.
     
     Perfect! On the universal scale of enjoyable customer service, Box ranks on the complete opposite end from my previous post of Farmer Brown. The man who took our order was friendly, exuded happiness and chatted and joked with us as we waited for our food to be ready. Box was busy that night, which doesn't surprise me after tasting their innovative and delicious food. Even so, the server engaged all customers with a smile and made them feel comfortable. This is how service should be, I thought to myself. The cooks in the back were laughing and seemed to be enjoying themselves as well, and the radio played fun songs in the background.

     I cannot recommend Box enough - their menu is innovative, delicious, and reasonably priced, and their service manages to match this quality. My only suggestion would be to come in a car or cab. Don't walk or bus it to the area, especially if you aren't from the city and especially at night. It's not the best neighborhood for a stroll, but perfectly fine for a quick bite. 

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Alphabet Dining, Letter F: Farmer Brown

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
CW from TL: Cornbread Muffins, Crispy Cornmeal Catfish, Rib Plate, Chicken Pot Pie

Farmer Brown Restaurant


     "How was Farmer Brown?" Open Table asked me following our reservation. "Meh..." I found myself saying aloud. Don't let the pictures fool you. Farmer Brown gets points for presentation, but loses many in other areas, such as service, hidden fees, and the food itself. 


Ambiance

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
    
 Upon entering Farmer Brown, you can tell they are going for a hip, industrial vibe. They had a DJ pumping music from his corner booth, and Soul Train videos projected on screens throughout the venue. I was hopeful.

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
Back of the Farmer Brown Menu

     I thought the industrial steel backing of the menu was a fun touch. 

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
Mason Jars

     Mason jar cups. I prefer glasses, but I get it for the industrial farmer theme. 


Service
     I was unimpressed by the service at Farmer Brown. While waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, I browsed the shelf by the hostess' podium. A waiter was chatting with the hostess and asked her what one of the stacks of stickers on the shelf meant. It read "#LHSF." I leaned in and let them know it stood for "Lower Haight SF," and that it was a hashtag from Twitter. Both the waiter and hostess just looked at me before continuing to chat away. Guess patrons aren't allowed to speak to staff unless spoken to??
     Later, the same man turned out to be our waiter. He did not seem too friendly, and when we were ready to order he simply raised his eyebrows and looked around for one of us to decide to give our order. 
     To top it off, I was brought a fried chicken entree instead of my fried catfish, and my actual order didn't come out until my party was almost done eating. No discount offered, and I think I got one half-hearted apology. Not impressed!!
Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
Mini Cornbreads

     Sadly, these complimentary Mini Cornbread Muffins were the highlight of my Farmer Brown Dining experience. They were delicious, not too heavy, and free. I should have stopped after these. 
     I do wish they had told us we were going to receive these complimentary muffins when we ordered our Angel Biscuit appetizers. The combination of muffins and biscuits was pretty filling even before our entrees came out. 


Starters


Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
Angel Biscuits and Honey Butter

     Again, I think I would have enjoyed these Angel Biscuits and Honey Butter more if we had not been given delicious cornbread muffins to eat right before. 

Entrees

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
Crispy Cornmeal Catfish w/ hush puppies, candied yams, pickled onions, garlic green beans and sauce gribiche

     Looks good, right? It's just too bad I had to wait until my party was 3/4 done with their plates to receive it - and no discount offered. They originally brought me the fried chicken, though I ordered this plate of Crispy Cornmeal Catfish, with hush puppies, candied yams, pickled onions, garlic green beans and sauce gribicheI would have given points for the large portions, but because it came so late this was more of a nuisance than anything. By the time it arrived I was forced to rush through my meal, and ended up taking a large portion of it home. I'm all for leftovers, but reheated catfish is not too appetizing!

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco

     The food was very heavy - fried cornmeal catfish with gribiche (mayonnaise-like sauce), fried hushpuppies, even the green beans were doused in some sort of buttery glaze. The taste was not bad, but it was the sort of meal that sits heavy in your gut and makes you want to do nothing but succumb to food coma. There was no light, healthy portion to the plate to offset all the fried, greasy ingredients. 

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco

     Chester enjoyed his classic Rib Plate, which came with steak fries, jalapeno coleslaw and a side of BBQ sauce

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
Southern Fried Chicken, w/macaroni & cheese and ham hock mustard greens.

     Chanda ordered the Southern Fried Chicken,which consisted of light & dark meatmacaroni & cheese and ham hock mustard greens. She was left unimpressed by the fried chicken, which is a shame considering Farmer Brown specializes in soul food. Our party entered into a conversation about great places to get fried chicken & waffles - such as Gussies and Roscoe's. I think it's a shame when a customer has to daydream about other restaurants to get through their meal. She also had to ask our waiter multiple times for a side of ketchup.

Farmer Brown Restaurant San Francisco
Chicken Pot Pie & Mixed Greens

     This was Rebecca's first time EVER trying chicken pot pie. She enjoyed the meal, but mentioned that for the price she expected larger portions. I don't blame her, considering the enormous portions given to my catfish and Chester's rib order. It seemed the plate portions at FB vary depending on what you order. 

Overall Experience

     Put simply, I would not place Farmer Brown's at the top of my recommendation list. I went in excited by the ambiance - DJ booth, Soul Train, adorable Menu & delicious complimentary Mini Cornbread Muffins. Unfortunately I was unimpressed from there. 
     The staff was unfriendly, my order came out as the rest of my party was finishing their meals, and the food itself was very heavy and greasy. When the bill came, we were asked for an additional tip on top of the included 18% gratuity. 
     Though we unanimously voted to try Farmer Brown's, it turned out less than spectacular and nothing to write home about.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Frances



Steak, Bacon Beignets, Pecan Cake, Spring Salad, Fennel Soup, Monkey Bread, Halibut

Frances - Castro


      Last week, I was lucky enough to join Donovan, Genevieve, Rebekah, and Carina for a mind-altering dinner at Frances! If you aren't familiar, Frances is located in the Castro on 17th Street & Pond. It serves Traditional American dishes, and is one of those restaurants where you need to make reservations months in advance. That should already give you an idea of how good it is.
     Melissa Perello, the genius chef at Frances, has access to the freshest ingredients from local farmer's markets. Her recipes are simple yet deliberate, and raise the bar for fine dining. 

Ambiance




      In keeping with the food, the ambiance of Frances is simple and sophisticated.




     
     Little touches like these cloth coasters make all the difference. 

Market Shot

     As I mentioned earlier, Chef Melissa gets the freshest local ingredients, including fresh juice from the market for the house market shot, shown above.

Blue Bottle Coffee

      This adorable coffee gourd was yet another testament to the attention to detail at Frances - not to mention the quality of the coffee itself. As a former Blue Bottle barista myself, I can tell you that Blue Bottle is the highest quality coffee and espresso in the Bay Area. They have their own strict, simple regimen to create the freshest, strongest, organic and locally-owned coffee and espresso. Yet another point for Frances!

Bouchees


Roasted Almonds w/ Rosemary + Lavender; Massala-spiced cauliflower & house yogurt with Nigella seed lavash

Applewood Smoked Bacon Beignets + Maple Chive Creme Fraiche

     When you come to Frances, you must try the Bacon Beignets. It's not even a question. They are doughy, hearty and absolutely delicious.

Close-up of my delicious Bacon Beignet

Octopus Salad, with potatoes and celery

     This dish was so unique from anything I've had before. Octopus Salad, with grilled potatoes and celery. I've had octopus before, and I've had salads and (believe it or not) potatoes before, but never have I had them in combination. The juxtaposition of flavors, textures, and even colors was delightfully interesting. 

Close-up of the Octopus, Potato, and Celery 
     
     The octopus was meaty and full, as you can see here. If you've never had it, the texture is very chewy. At Frances, the seafood flavor in the octopus was thankfully not overwhelming. The hearty potatoes were offset by the bright celery, which harnessed an almost tart quality that lightened up the chewy octopus as well.

Appetizers


Salad of Spring Greens - Enlish Peas, Shiitake Mushrooms, Farm Egg, Crisp Shallots

       I ordered the Salad of Spring Greens as my appetizer, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Another first for me, I adored the combination of soft greens with the crispy, fried shallots! The English Peas themselves were fresh and full of flavor (almost sweet), and the farm egg was cooked perfectly - not overcooked but not too runny either. 

Celery Root and Fennel Soup

     For their appetizers, Rebekah and Genevieve ordered the Celery Root and Fennel Soup, above, which was creamy, smooth, and delicious.

Squid Ink Tagliatelle - Grilled Calamari, Meyer Lemon, Green Garlic, Espelette
(photocred! @thedapperdiner)

      Donovan's appetizer was the Squid Ink Tagliatelle, with grilled calamari, meyer lemon, green garlic, and espelette (dried red pepper). Tagliatelle is a long, flat noodle that is usually blonde or yellow in color. At Frances, however, the noodles are blackened with squid ink! So innovative - when was the last time you had darkened pasta??

Lacinato Kale Salad - Pecorino, Charred Mandarin, Shaved Fennel, Medjool Dates
(photocred! @thedapperdiner)


      Even though I had ordered my own salad, I just had to try this Lacinato Kale Salad when it came out! With pecorino, charred mandarin, shaved fennel, and medjool dates, it was a healthy treat before the main courses came out. The mandarin was a light, tart accent to the kale. I also appreciated the presentation of the orange against the green, with a white fennel sprinkling to bring it all together.

Entrees


    Five Dot Ranch Bavette Steak - Bintje Potatoes, Horseradish Creme Fraiche, English Peas
(photocred! @thedapperdiner)

     Look at those colors! Donovan and Carina each ordered the Five Dot Ranch Bavette Steak for their main course. It came atop Bintje Potatoes, Horseradish Creme Fraiche, and English Peas. The steak was tender and bursting with flavor, as you can see in the above picture!

Half Moon Bay Halibut - Green Garlic Fumet, Asparagus, Butter Ball Potatoes, and Salsify

        The rest of us ordered the Halibut, which was clearly even more tender, buttery and absolutely delicious! My strategy here was to alternate between bites of the halibut, asparagus, and butter ball potatoes. I reveled in their dance of textures and flavors - from the tender fish, to the soft potatoes, to the crunch of the asparagus.

Desserts


Monkey Bread - with Mexican Spiced Chocolate Ice Cream and Anglaise

     Everything at Frances is delicious, and I honestly believe you cannot go wrong with anything you order here. However, there are a couple dishes I must recommend specifically. Earlier I mentioned the Bacon Beignets. I would like to add to that list the Monkey Bread dessert! I may be biased because this was my first time having monkey bread, but it really did blow my mind. For the curious, it tastes somewhere between a cinnamon roll and a doughnut. The cinnamon flavor is highlighted with the Mexican Spiced Chocolate Ice Cream. I liked it so much I'll give you a close-up:

YUM!

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

     All this delicious fancy food all night, and I must say this gigantic scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream is the dish everyone jumped on! Testament to Frances splash of simplicity - sometimes it really is the best.

Lumberjack Cake - Lady Apple, Kumquat, Medjool Date, Maple Ice Cream

      This is the dessert for the chocolate lover. I'm still curious as to why it's called the Lumberjack Cake - maybe because it's so hearty? Filled with Lady Apples, Kumquats, and Medjool Dates, it struck me almost more like a delicious pie than a cake. Maybe somewhere in between. The maple ice cream was a great complement to the flavors in the cake-pie.

Toasted Pecan Cake - Strawberry Semifreddo, Citrus Marmalade, Minneola Tangelo  
(photocred! @thedapperdiner)

       My second favorite dessert! This soft and sweet Toasted Pecan Cake came with Strawberry Semifreddo, which is a semi-frozen whipped cream (the light-colored block), Citrus Marmalade, and Minneola Tangelo. The tangelo was extremely tart- enough to make you pucker! It was the perfect kick to the sweet pecan cake. 

Overall Experience

     I am simply smitten by Frances. Melissa Perello's Traditional American restaurant has all the ingredients for an impressive dining experience. 
     The comfortable, clean ambiance is the appetizer of the whole experience from the moment you walk in. The friendly waitstaff have to be the starters, who get you settled in and prepare you for the main course: the food itself. 
     To me, food presentation is very important. I really believe in the Japanese belief that the presentation of the food is just as important as the food itself. After all, we are equipped with 5 senses, vision being one of the most commonly used in our daily lives. Each dish at Frances seems to take this into account. I absolutely loved looking at each and every dish that came out- each with a variety of colors, enticing the eater to be excited about every new bite!
      The dessert of the Frances experience was the twist that came to the American dishes - the ink-blackened tagliatelle, the octopus salad. With each dish, I was experiencing a new combination of flavors that somehow seemed like they should always go together!
     Clearly, I highly recommend Frances. Whether a local, SF Native, or a tourist passing through town, you won't be disappointed here. 



As always,
Thanks for reading & Happy eating! 

       
Frances on Urbanspoon
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