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In a state of hibernation. My backlog has long become unsustainable. Will probably tweet more and write less full-length stuff.

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Entries in Italian (54)

Monday
Dec262005

Trattoria Buon Gusto

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Happy holidays everyone! I'm spending a week or so in Vancouver now. I've got a couple of old SF posts before I start going into Australia. Here is a meal with my dad and Auntie Maggie near her new house in Menlo Park at Trattoria Buon Gusto. Menlo Park seems like an odd place to go to eat, but it turns out Buon Gusto has a real Italian grandmother cooking in the back. The restaurant is comfortable and casual, with a pretty simple menu of traditional classics. The place is a definition of the friendly neigbborhood spot.

arancini - deep-fried rice balls filled with meat sauce, peas and mozzarella - $9.5 Arancini is one of my favorite items. It was one of the first things I liked, back when they served it at the now-closed Bonta on Union Street. These risotto balls were probably the biggest I've ever seen, with a nice crunchy crust and hearty filling.

melanzana alla siciliana - sliced eggplant floured and fried, layered with mozzarella cheese and oven-baked - $7.5 Auntie Maggie was quick to order this, and it turns out she had good reason. I've never really this dish made this way. It almost looked like a cheese sandwich using eggplant slices instead of bread. The result was that it actually tasted like eggplant with some cheese, rather than a big mess of batter and tomato sauce. Good stuff.

pappardelle ai porcini - white egg pasta with porcini, garlic, white wine in light cream sauce - $13.25 I couldn't resist ordering this simple pappardelle. The sauce was quite rich and had a strong porcini flavor, and the noodles did a great job mopping everything up.

vitello alla marsala - lightly floured veal sauteed and flambed with marsala wine - $16.25 The veal was pretty good. The sauce was dark and intense, but I think the veal was just a tad bit overcooked. Still a great rendition of the dish, and one of the better ones that I've had in recent memory. It's good to see some real Italian food being served up even over in Menlo Park. Just goes to show you we've got a lot of food in the bay. I hope everyone enjoys the holidays!
Sunday
Oct162005

Quince

My brief stay in SF happened to coincide with the visit of my mom's friend Winifred and her husband Mack. She's one of my mom's best friends from all the way back when she was a little kid. I hadn't seen them in a long time so it was good to catch up. Of course, my mom was keen to take them to some places to eat in our fine city.

 

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One of the spots we hit was Quince, which I was quite eager to return to after my last meal there. I was itching to get another taste of their pasta, and this time actually go for 2 pastas rather than one pasta and one main. Quince also fit the bill as a hot SF restaurant to take the guests, so off we were. The place was at capacity as usual, so I guess business is still very good.

fritto of sand dabs with lemon verbena mayonnaise - $10 I was intrigued by this sand dab appetizer. I like sand dabs quite a bit and you don't really see them around as much anymore. I was also feeling lemon verbena at the time, because Kirk's mom had picked one of the lemon verbena leaves from her plant and given it to me as I was leaving their place in Santa Rosa. That thing smelled so great that when I saw lemon verbena on the menu I had to have it. The dish was good, with crusty batter and a nice crunch to it. There were actually a couple of slices of battered and fried lemon slices - peel and all. That was a bit strong, almost bitter, and I think one slice of it rather than two would have been enough. The fish was a bit oversalted, and I would have preferred to let the delicious mayo do more of the work.

garganelli with Georgia white shrimp, cream, white wine & basil - $16 Now this dish was exactly what I was looking for at Quince. Fresh, delicious, textured pasta - a simple joy. The sauce was light but flavorful, and the shrimp were beautiful, with a nice fresh bounce to them.

pappardelle with Hoffman Farm chicken - $15 There were a lot of other interesting pastas on the menu, but I kept getting flashbacks of the pappardelle I had last time and I had to get this. The pasta was, again, wonderful. The chicken was tender and the jus had a very strong chicken-stock type of flavor. But like the sand dabs, this too was a bit oversalted. I still gobbled it up, but it's a shame - it would have been better if they'd gone a little easier on the seasoning.

bay leaf ice cream I was pretty full and didn't feel like getting a whole dessert, and when my dad inquired about just getting some ice cream, our waiter said they had some bay leaf ice cream we could get. To be honest, I'm actually not sure if it was bay leaf - it was some kind of unusual herb or something, but I can't remember. The reason is that while the ice cream was quite excellent, it didn't taste much like whatever the flavor was supposed to be. It was very creamy and delicious though.

I would say that this meal at Quince wasn't as good as my first. They were definitely too liberal with the salt on both the sand dabs and the pappardelle, and that hurt what were otherwise excellent dishes. I still think Quince is a great place, but it really is a bit too hard to get in. Such is the restaurant scene in SF, I guess...

Wednesday
Aug032005

Incanto

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Well, I'm back in San Francisco. I'm quite stuffed from the debauchery in Paris, so I'll do my best to take it easy for the next week. Still a couple more posts from before - I'll start France later this week. Here is a dinner at Incanto with my mom, Auntie Margie, Auntie Cathy, and the Chus. I've been wanting to try Incanto for a while. It really got a lot of praise on Chowhound a while back. It's since gotten some mixed reviews around the blogging world, but I was still interested. The design of the restaurant is absolutely beautiful. The room is clean and sleek, with modern lines and edges throughout, but still has a rustic, earthy tone to it. Look how smooth the sign is - the rest of the restaurant matches. My only complaint is the chairs are perhaps a bit too rustic, and not very comfortable. Onto the food...

amuse bouche - fennel and radish salad Although I'm now used to getting many amuse bouches at every meal after my trip, I remember that I was pretty surprised to get one at Incanto. It's really not very common to see them at a restaurant in this price range. The salad was very fresh and light, though not too memorable.

tuna conserva & borlotti bean salad with grilled lemon - $8.5 This was, I think, the biggest appetizer I've had in a long time. The tuna was very tasty, having absorbed a good amount of flavor from the dressing. The beans were surprisingly good and not overwhelmingly cakey. Red chiles gave the dish a sudden jolt of spice every few bites or so.

handkerchief pasta with rustic pork ragu - $14 Roger and I both wanted to try some of the pasta so we ended up sharing this between our apps and mains. I've read complaints that this dish is severely underseasoned, and I personally disagree. I think just a bit of nice parmesan on top was enough to make this dish very tasty. The ragu had a nice, deep pork flavor and I thought it dressed the pasta quite adequately.

braised pork shoulder with summer squash, fiorelli & marjoram - $18 A lot of people also said the best bet at Incanto is braised pork whatever. On our night it was this pork shoulder dish, which turned out very good. The pork was extremely tender and the accompanying squash and squash blossoms were wonderful. But for some reason, this dish got slightly boring towards the end. The first bite tasted better than the last - perhaps I was getting too full.

bay leaf panna cotta with fresh black currants - $6.5 I know you guys must be getting sick of me ordering the panna cotta at every single Italian meal. What can I say; I love the dish. And supposedly it's Incanto's signature dessert. I honestly didn't detect a ton of bay leaf flavor, but this panna cotta was still thick, creamy, and delicous.

chocolate delizia with roasted hazelnuts - $6.5 Roger's parents, who had been to Incanto quite a few times fairly recently, eagerly ordered this chocolate cake. I tried a bite and it was pretty damn good - intensely chocolatey and yummy. So I was a little worried Incanto might disappoint after the mixed reviews started coming out, but luckily our meal there was good. I think it's worth going back. I said I'd try to eat light this week, but it may be tough; I've got a few big meals lined up already. I'll probably do my best to stick to non-French food and eat lightish lunches. I leave for Vancouver on the 10th.
Friday
Jul222005

Bella Trattoria

I am now officially posting from a house in Maillane, a small town in the south of France near Avignon. It took a little tinkering with the settings but the DSL here does indeed work! I've already had a very nice piece of foie gras (last night) and some great rillettes with a fresh baguette (just now for breakfast), but I've still got a bit of SF posting to go. Next up is Bella Trattoria, a little Italian place in Inner Richmond that makes their own pasta. The place is a pretty classic neighborhood Italian place, with consistently good food and friendly service. This is from a meal with my mom and a few of her friends. Anyway, we're about to head to St. Remy so I gotta make this a bit quick.

antipasto della casa - grilled eggplant, zucchini, cold cuts - $9 Pretty solid appetizer plate... I especially liked the zucchini. All of the meats were quite good too.

mozzarella con bruschetta - fresh mozzarella served with tomato bruschetta - $7.95 This was very well prepared, but the tomatoes weren't that great. This meal is from a couple of weeks ago; I guess the really awesome tomatoes weren't quite out yet.

la polenta di Bella - shitake mushroom & gorgonzola over polenta - $6.5 Nice, soft polenta. It's a bit reminiscent of the version at Zuni, but with a pretty good dose of gorgonzola. The mushrooms were a nice addition.

portobello balsamico - portobello mushroom prepared with balsamic vinegar reduction - $9.5 This was very tasty. The mushrooms were juicy and delicious. The balsamic vinegar reduction was very flavorful; I ended up sopping up most of it with bread.

anatra - potato dumplings with a muscovy duck ragu - $13.95 Delicious, fluffy little gnocchi in a hearty duck sauce. I think the picture can speak for itself on this one. They were very generous with the ragu, so much so that I'd probably have liked more gnocchi to balance it out! :) Sorry to make this short but I gotta run. Bella is a great neighborhood pasta spot... I've tried many of the pastas on the menu and they're pretty much all well prepared and delicious. Check it out!
Monday
Jul182005

Da Flora

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My mom received a recommendation from someone to try out Da Flora, a small Italian place at the edge of North Beach. The place really is quite small, occupying a weird corner space of a very sharp block on Columbus. Racks of wine cover the back wall, while a presumably tiny kitchen is hidden somewhere in the back. The menu came handwritten, which was a nice homely touch. Completely unrelated: I'm about 80% sure that Chris Moneymaker (he won the World Series of Poker a couple of years ago) was eating a couple of tables away from us. I have no idea what he would be in SF for (this was like 2 weeks ago, so it's possible he was here just before the WSOP started), but it really really looked like him! Anyway, on to the food...

carpaccio a la Harry's Bar - raw tenderloin sliced thin & topped with horseradish caper dressing - $10.75 The menu has at least some of a Venetian slant to it, considering it had this dish as well as a squid ink risotto on there. When I saw the claim "a la Harry's Bar," it was set in stone that I'd order this. My mom briefly inquired about the Harry's Bar part, and our server (who appeared to be the owner) went into the story of how carpaccio was invented at Harry's Bar, and somewhere along the line became served with olive oil instead of Harry's Bar's creamy dressing thing. I don't know how often she runs into a customer who has had the real deal at Harry's Bar (I'm soo awesome aren't I? It was pre-Arthur Hungry though, and still the best carpaccio I've ever had). Since I knew the story already, I was eager to try. The result: meh. It was good, but not great. The sauce certainly tasted a little different - Harry's Bar's had more of an aioli type of flavor to it. I guess when they've set up such a comparison, it's tough not to be a little disappointed. Still, it was a pretty good carpaccio.

burrata, marinated peppers, crostini - $9.75 (I think) This was a special so I'm not sure if I got the price right. It was replacing a fava bean puree crostini that was on the menu and listed at $9.75, so it should be at least in that ballpark. Anyway, here was another dish that immediately set itself up for comparison, this time to the heavenly burrata at A16. I know, it's not like A16 invented burrata, but their version seems to have become a pretty famous dish around our fair city. The one at Da Flora, apparently flown in from Italy that day, was again very good but not great. It wasn't as good as the one at A16, which I guess is not a huge knock considering how good that one is and how hard it is now to get a table there. This cheese was very nice but something was missing - maybe it could have used another drop of olive oil, or the crostini needed another pinch of salt. My mom still loved it and probably appreciated the peppers more than I did.

"their own" sweet potato gnocchi swathed in sherry cream with smoked bacon - $9.75 This is Da Flora's signature dish, and it was definitely the winner of the night. The gnocchi were rich and hearty, and the sauce was delicious. The gnocchi were cooked til they were very lightly browned at the edge, which gave each bite an ever so slight contrast in texture. Excellent dish.

housemade tagliatelle with roasted corn & rock shrimp in a tarragon cream sauce There was a slight bit of confusion and at first I was brought a cavatappi bolognese. The owner had apparently misheard my order and actually written down cavatappi (I checked on the bill later), so it wasn't her forgetting something. I felt bad because at some point while we were eating our apps, she told someone at a table next to us while they were ordering that they were out of the cavatappi bolognese. Anyway, they corrected the mistake quickly and without any complaint - I dunno what happened with that bolognese, but it may have immediately gone to another table that ordered it. Anyway, as you can see the tagliatelle looks absolutely great. The pasta had a good texture, and the shrimp (which were even more plentiful than the picture reveals) were extremely plump and firm - not mushy at all. The corn was a nice bonus. My only complaint is that there was slightly too much tarragon, which during some bites overpowered the other flavors a bit. Overall it was a very good meal and I'd be happy to go back. It's a great nearby option, and there's one main dish in particular that I want to try: sonoma duck livers seared until rosy with caramelized onions, sage & pancetta, over toasted polenta.