December 31, 2006

Pizzeria Picco [Larkspur]

Upon a second visit, I would relegate Pizzeria Picco to second place, next to Dopo. Although its pizzas are good, they often feel imbalanced in flavor and in order to satisfy the entire palette, I find that you often have to order multiple pizzas. The salads are still top notch, though. Picco's crusts are blistery thin and toppings are ample and diverse. The salads are top notch and the Straus Diary soft-serve is to die for. However, like most pizzerias, Picco is tiny, with about six tables outside that seat four and a bar for no more than 12 inside.

I enjoyed our Caesar ($8.25) for its lighter dressing, which was a refreshing addition to the wind on my skin as we enjoyed the weather on Picco's patio. My only criticism was that I couldn't taste the anchovies, which would have added a layer of complexity to the salad and given it more depth. Our romaine was damn crisp and I enjoyed the "torn croutons," which gave me the impression that they were homemade with extra care.

Although there were only two of us, my friend decided that he was hungry enough to order two pizzas. The Trek ($14.50), my choice, came out first and seemed to be a popular selection amongst the other diners on the patio. The artichokes and mushrooms gave the pizza more texture, but the flavor of the tomato sauce was what really shined through. The mozarella was least represented, but not missed. And yes, the ham was darn good.

They have replaced the Trek and are now offering a similar pizza minus the artichokes. I'm also a fan of the Marin, a white pizza that has a very mild smoothness to it.

I was wary of the New Cannondale ($12.95) given my poor experiences with non-sauced pizzas and recent belief that pizzas were better with less meat. It's not that I've completely turned myself off to the idea of a sauceless pizza, I just find that without sauce, the flavor of pizza tends to fall flat. The flavors in the meat and cheese end up getting lost when there isn't a backdrop flavor, which lends a contrast and brings out the distinctness in the ingredients. The cannondale, a white pizza, drew from the sweetness of its onions and red peppers to highlight the subtle spiciness in the sausage. It was also very good.

Picco's pizza crusts manage to hold their own a lot better than most pizzerias you'll find in the Bay Area. While I'm a fan of the thin crust, I am not fond of having no choice but to eat my pizza with a fork and knife.

Litespeed Pizza

We boxed our pizza in order to save room for dessert. I remember having an amazing olive oil whipped cream at Oliveto and decided that my new dessert indulgence would be salty-sweet confections. First off, you can never go wrong with soft serve and after you try the olive oil and sea salt combination with Straus Dairy soft-serve ($3.50), you'll learn that you can't go wrong that either.

Pizzeria Picco
320 Magnolia Avenue
Larkspur, CA 94939
(415) 945-8900

December 23, 2006

Sushi Ran [Sausalito]

January 1, 2007

A photo montage of my most recent meal at Sushi Ran--a fabulous way to kick off 2008.

Cooked Food Selection

Ahi, calamari tentacles, and maitake mushrooms.
In general, mushroom dishes tend to be stellar at Japanese restaurants--Sushi Ran is no exception.

Raw Selection

Omakase Nigiri ($28 for seven pieces) and Omakase Sashimi ($29 for 10 pieces)
Order either the Omakase Nigiri or Sashimi, but not both, since there are repeats across the selections.


Chocolate Bombe with Hazelnut Creme Anglaise and Bananas Foster.
I've exhausted the dessert list at Sushi Ran and can vouch for the Trio of Custards in addition to the two shown above.

December 26, 2006

I've been to Sushi Ran enough times now to have exhausted the menu, ordering nearly everything off both the sushi and cooked menus. The restaurant is housed in two separate buildings, though I would sitting on the side with the sushi bar, but only because there are more windows to let in sunlight. Though the restaurant opens at 5:30pm, if you come in half an hour later without a reservation, you're likely to be denied a table. Being on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge doesn't mean the restaurant is any less busy than those in SF's downtown.

Our most recent dinner here celebrated the end of a short weekend trip to the Bay. We were seated at a table on the sunny-side of the restaurant and we pored over the menu hoping to find something that I hadn't yet tried. There are often specials chalked in on a board posted by the sushi bar, but dont be deceived as many of these dishes are featured in the regular menu as well.

We started with the grilled calamari, scallop and chive dumplings, and trumpet mushrooms. Rather safe choices, you say? I think not. The grilling really brings out a deep smokiness in the calamari and the chewiness of the jerky-like texture really make for a very unique dish. The dumplings are a stand-by of mine for their smooth, delicate skins, though I have found the soy sauce consistently salty. Dont miss either of the cooked mushroom offerings, though my favorite of the two is the trumpet mushrooms with sunchoke puree (pictured). I have ordered the vegetable tasting [bok choy in garlic chili sauce, eggplant, wax beans in green curry, asparagus] on one occasion and found it too robust. There was nothing to tie the dish together as a whole and I found the the savory, sweet, and sour flavors too disparate for my palette. The eggplant and bok choy went beyond having strong flavors--they were just plain salty.

On that note, I should forewarn you that Sushi Ran's cooked food tends to draw influences from other parts of Asia, which means that the flavors are less muted than what you'd find in traditional Japanese cuisine. On previous visits, I've ordered the caramelized shrimp, miso cod, glazed butterfish, yellowtail cheek, and shaking beef. The fishes are outstanding and incredibly fresh and if you thought all miso cods were created equal, give this one a try before you make up your mind. Also, dont forget to order a bowl of rice for the shrimp and beef because while the dishes are good, they are borderline salt overload.

Now we're getting to the good stuff.

Zagat rated Sushi Ran #1 for food in the Bay Area and the credit for that accolade goes to none other than the sushi. A requisite of every meal at Sushi Ran is the Omakase Sashimi plate ($30) which comes with five pairs of some of the freshest sashimi that you'll find in California. I suggest you get them to slow down when they're explaining what everything is to you because chances are, you've never heard of half the things on that plate. The highlight of this particular outing were the baby eels marinated in a soy sauce as seen in the sake cups on the plates. We weren't quite sure what were slurping up at first, but soon saw the eyeballs and figured it out for yourselves. But eyeballs aside, the eels went down smoothly and without complaint from even our pickiest eater at the table. On a previous visit, we even found the normally too-strong-for-our-taste-buds saba to be delectable.

But what do we know about all these types of fish that we've only heard of for the first time at Sushi Ran? That's why we ordered some hamachi for a benchmark and yes, it was the best hamachi we've ever had. On the plate you also see ikura and a futomaki roll and I'd highly recommend the salmon citrus roll though it's not pictured. Sushi Ran also offers an omakase roll, though it would really be a waste unless you ordered it while sitting at the sushi bar. The sushi here is about the pristine quality and integrity of the fish, so dont expect to find too many outrageous maki rolls.

If you thought it ended there, then you're pretty foolish because their desserts rock my world so much, that we often end up ordering twice as what we normally would. The bananas foster are delectable and sweet without giving you a toothache while the ginger ice cream they're served with bring complexity with the spicy undertones. The sorbets are crisp and refreshing while the trio of creme brulees were gone before we knew it. The hazelnut chocolate bombe is also, well, bomb. I was less fond of the marscapone ice cream, which is less interesting than it sounds and the green tea bread pudding, which was a little too sweet.

With sake flowing, our meals at Sushi Ran may have never been cheap ($40 p.p. and up), but they've always been worth it.

* Photos courtesy of Sheepathon

Sushi Ran
107 Caledonia Street
Sausalito, CA 94965
(415) 332-3620

December 13, 2006

Mantra [Palo Alto]

You have to give Mantra props for what the chef's interpretation on Indian cuisine. It's not an Indian fusion restaurant, so don't expect muted versions of Indian food catered for the Western palette. The menu reads more as New American with undertones of Indian, where Indian spices and preparation belie the philosophy behind the cooking. This genre of American cuisine has yet been unattempted by any restaurant, so if you come without expectations, you're bound to be pleasantly surprised.

We started with the Shrimp Vinhaleaux, which was served three to a platter. While the shrimp were marinated in chili and cinnamon, we could only taste the chili, which was generously encrusted on our overcooked shrimp. In theory the tart flavors in the salad should have offset the sweet-spiciness of the shrimp, but the kitchen must have fallen short on execution that night.

Next came our garlic and chili flake naan with the yellow lentil dal of the day. Our naan was rolled a little thin and crunchy to the bite. I wasn't sure if this was an intentional interpretation, but I found the naan so dry that I opted to order the dal to give us something to dip in. The dal, a lentil soup, at Mantra was probably the most traditionally prepared Indian dish on the menu---don't miss it.

We shared the Kashmiri Sea Bass entre and were told that it was the most popular item on the menu---and with good reason. The flesh of the fish itself was fragrant with the marinade of cayenne pepper and mustard without the help of an accompanying sauce. I could have eaten the filet sans mashed potatoes, sides, or accompaniments of any sort.

We ordered the chocolate lava cake for dessert and were brought two mini cakes for the celebration of a birthday. Dessert was average at best and I still prefer Delfina's bittersweet Scharffen Berger version.

At 6pm, we had our pick of the lot and chose a table window-side 100 feet from the only other party seated at that time. The lounge-feel of the dining room seemed out of place for the age demographic present that night, but then again it is Palo Alto.

632 Emerson Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 322-3500

December 8, 2006

Index of Posts

In alphabetical order [dates reflect first visit]:

242 Cafe Fusion Sushi [Laguna Beach] - June 12. 2007
A-Won [Koreatown LA] - June 9. 2007
Aki's Bakery [San Jose] - May 31. 2007
Alinea [Chicago] - July 22. 2007
Augustus Cafe [Las Vegas] - July 3. 2007
Avanti Cafe [Costa Mesa] - June 11. 2007
Bagelmania [Huntington Beach] - July 7. 2007
Beach Cities Yogurt & Gelato [Costa Mesa] - July 2. 2007
Bistro Beaux [Torrance] - June 22. 2007
Bistro Margot [Chicago] - July 22. 2007
Blackbird [Chicago] - July 21. 2007
Bodhi Tree Vegetarian Cafe [Huntington Beach] - June 9. 2007
Cafe Blanc [Costa Mesa] - June 20. 2007
Cafe Hiro [Cypress] - September 13. 2006
Casa de Tree [Torrance] - June 21. 2007
Cây Dừa [Santa Ana] - June 11. 2007
Chenery Park [San Francisco] - September 25. 2006
Chikara Mochi [Gardena] - May 7. 2007
Cream Pan [Tustin] - June 14. 2007
clarklewis [Portland] - September 23. 2006
Daily Cafe [Portland] - September 24. 2006
Dinner Detective [Palms LA] - July 7. 2007
Eiji [Mission SF] - March 6. 2006
Fontera Grill [Chicago] - July 20, 2007
Genki Living [Irvine] - June 12. 2007
Ghetto Gourmet [Various] - May 17. 2007
Green Zebra [Chicago] - July 20, 2007
Hi Tea [Chicago] - July 23 . 2007
Hot Chocolate [Chicago] - July 20 . 2007
Huong Huong [Westminster] - July 8. 2007
Ikko Japanese Restaurant, 2 [Costa Mesa] - June 17. 2007
Il Chianti [Lomita] - June 5. 2007
Joe's Italian Ice [Venice] - July 13. 2007
Jin Patisserie [Venice] - June 20. 2007
Katsu-Ya [Studio City] - May 14. 2007
Kimera [Irvine] - June 17. 2007
La Paella [Mid-City West] - February 10. 2007
Lovely Hula Hands [Portland] - Sepetember 24. 2006
Mantra [Palo Alto] - October 13. 2006
Mentatsu [Costa Mesa] - July 7. 2007
Micasa Bakery [Buena Park] - June 18. 2007
Montego Bay [Jamaica] - June 26. 2007
Musha [Torrance] - May 15. 2007
Nam Phuong [Westminster] - July 4. 2007
Native Foods [Costa Mesa] - June 17. 2007
Opus [Koreatown LA] - June 24. 2007
Orange [Chicago] - July 22, 2007
Otafuku [Gardena] - June 23. 2007
Park Ave [Stanton] - July 12. 2007
Patisserie Chantilly [Lomita] - June 10. 2007
Piccomolo [Irvine] - July 3. 2007
Pizzeria Picco [Larkspur] - August 31. 2007
Pho Thang Long [Westminster] - June 16. 2007
Rosine's Mediterranean Grill [Anaheim] - July 6. 2007
Sakura-Ya [Gardena] - June 10. 2007
Scoops [Koreatown LA] - June 9. 2007
Spoon House [Gardena] - June 10. 2007
Sushi Kappo Suzumaru [Tustin] - June 17. 2007
Sushi MiMi [Fountain Valley] - July 10. 2007
Sushi Ran [Sausalito] - August 31. 2006
Sushi Wasabi [Tustin] - June 21. 2007
Taste of Gaslamp [San Diego] - June 17. 2007
Tea Upon Chatsworth [San Diego] - June 25. 2007
Thai Nakorn [Stanton] - June 7. 2007
Tropika [Tustin] - July 5. 2007
Voodoo Doughnut [Portland] - September 22. 2006
Wheel of Life [Irvine] - June 22. 2007

September 25, 2006

Chenery Park [SF]

The caveat is that we only ordered appetizers, so I probably couldn't give an accurate review of the place.

I enjoyed the restaurant more of its ambiance than the quality of food. I love the way the setting sun lights up Chernery Park's dining room in the early afternoon. Ask for the seats window-side at the front of the house.

Our mac&cheese, heirloom tomato plate, and tatsoi didn't blow my mind, but the dishes were very satisfying. I will definitely have to come back for real food, but my verdict is Chenery Park is a neighborhood restaurant at its best--simple food, personable service, and the buzzing of familiar voices and faces.

Chenery Park
683 Chenery St
San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 337-8537

September 24, 2006

Lovely Hula Hands [Portland]

The restaurant, which seats no more than 25 people, is housed in a pink house off of industrial Mississippi street. The warmly decorated dining room draws on vintage Victorian touches that make your experience here feel like home sweet home.

The night starts with a retro cocktail menu that lets you pretend you're at a kitschy tiki bar from the 70s. From there, you will be met with generous portions, cuisine with tropical influences, and ingredients locally sourced from organic farmers. Our crab cakes were decadent and served alongside a pickled cabbage relish that did well to balance out the heavier notes in the dish.

Our entrees included the ground chuck burger w/Tilamook cheddar and bacon, as well as the pumpkin rice w/coconut curry, lime-chili green beans, fried plantains, and grilled prawns. Both of the dishes were very generously portioned and robustly flavored.

We opted to skip out on desserts since the rest of meal was so filling. That night, they had a molten lava cake, praline creme brulee, and espresso panna cotta.

The restaurant doesn't take reservations and the tables filled up around 6:30 on Sunday night. By 7pm, the first seating started to clear out and there were no more people waiting when we left at 7:30.

Lovely Hula Hands is a restaurant that I would frequent time and again for the homemade touches that extend beyond the food to the service and space. I hear they've since moved to a more spacious location, so my pictures may be out of date.

Lovely Hula Hands
4057 N Mississippi Ave
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 445-9910

Daily Cafe [Portland]

Daily Cafe is located in the trendy Pearl district of Portland, which is one of those revived warehouse areas a la NYC's Meatpacking district. The modern space is painted in vibrant oranges and reds and is a dose of sunshine waiting for you on a Sunday morning. Not too busy or noisy, it is a good place to bring the family on a warm weekend.

Sunday brunch at the Daily Cafe involves a three-course prix fixe at an affordable $12.95. We started with a basket of pastries that included a cranberry scone, banana nut muffin, and cheddar cheese biscuit--all of which were fairly generic and dry.

Our appetizers came after our entrees and weren't memorable interpretations of apple cobbler or granola. The standouts were our entrees of baked Portuguese eggs with choricou and kale and smoked salmon omelette. In both case, our eggs were cooked to perfection and well seasoned.

Daily Cafe in the Pearl
902 NW 13th Ave
Portland OR 97209
(503) 242-1916

September 23, 2006

clarklewis [Portland]

When clarklewis opened a few years ago, it earned critical acclaim for its innovative take on organic Northwestern cuisine. As an out-of-town foodie from the Bay Area, I would agree that it lives up to the best of them in San Francisco.

The clarklewis menu is unconventionally horizontal, listing menu items and descriptions by their ingredients only. This introduces an element of surprise as you anticipate what a crostone with farm egg, frisee, sage roasted chanterelles, duck sugo, and aged balsamic is going to taste like as it awakens your taste buds with the subdued tartness of a sauce that you cant enough of. Or when you start to ponder the chewy texture of cavatelli with strawberry beef cheek bolognese.

All of the dishes on the clarklewis menu can be ordered in small, large, or family-sized portions. Each of our six dishes was unexpected and dazzling.

Make your way over to the retro woodgrain bar (if only to find enough light to read your menu). The entire dining room is flanked by open-air windows on either side, which makes for an enjoyable early autumn dinner when the air is crisp and still warm.

1001 Se Water Ave
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 235-2294

September 22, 2006

Voodoo Doughnut [Portland]

This was probably the most hyped up I got over any eating establishment that we planned to visit in Portland. Voodoo is one of those late-night cult favorites that you make sure to hit after a long night out. It has an underground urban vibe and the dark emo kids sitting outside only help to complete the vibe. It is as much an icon of Portland as is the its greenness and for the novelty alone, you must make a stop here on any trip to the area.

There seems to be an endless selection to choose from and all with whimsical names for your ordering. There are no pretenses here. If you order the "Cock-n-Balls," you're going to get a triple-cream, chocolate covered doughnut that indeed looks a like a cock with a pair of balls. The doughnuts are baked in bulk, which means that when you come in at midnight, the cocoa puffs on your Triple Chocolate Penetration are gonna be stale. The raised donuts aren't as fluffy and light and the cake donuts, a bit dry for my taste. The confections are achingly sweet, so make sure you grab a cup of coffee to dip yours in. I recommend the ODB

The store also holds monthly events, but I wasn't around in the Spring to check out the annual cockfest. " Hey boys!! How many doughnuts can you stack on your dick?? Enter the Annual Cockfest to find out. " Tasty indeed.

Voodoo Doughnut
22 SW 3rd Ave
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 241-4704

September 13, 2006

Cafe Hiro [Cypress]

The concept is cute enough and you will definitely see the fusion of cuisines represented in the restaurant's decor, which includes French window sills, Italian checkered table clothes, and Hawaiian surf photos.

We were excited to find curry on the menu, which we imagined would have a fusion-y twist about it. We were disappointed to find out that it was just a cut above House Foods and have found it rather uninspiring on multiple visits.

Although my cod lacked none of the buttery sweetness of a well-seasoned miso preparation, I could tell that the fish itself lacked the distinction of a high-quality black cod that flakes with barely a touch. The Chilean sea bass was dry and overcooked and was seasoned in a lemon-garlic base that could have used more kick. The Uni Spaghetti was more like Spaghetti with Uni Essence and underwhelming--although maybe to its own fame.

At $12-20 and entree, you are also brought soup and salad, which on the night we went included a miso-vinaigrette salad and corn chowder. We love the atmosphere here more than anything else, with the eccentricity of the decor making for a very convivial atmosphere.

Cafe Hiro
10509 Valley View St
Cypress, CA 90630
(714) 527-6090