Dining Detectives

San Francisco Bay Area Dining Establishments and Beyond
The Latest.
Toque of San Francisco December 2005
Carol and Joe Davis
Dining Detectives

The Dining Detectives have had a great dining year in 2005! We dined all around the San Francisco Bay Area, The Wine Country, Palm Springs and Boston. Restaurants in the Bay Area and beyond have been busy and for good reason, the economy is better and the Chefs have been striving to reach higher and create new and delicious cuisine. New restaurants keep opening and fewer are closing.

Roy’s has been in San Francisco for 5 years featuring Roy Yamaguchi’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine and now has appointed Ty Mahler as the new Executive Chef. We recently had a fabulous dinner that paired his new creations with wines. The first course was Kim Chee Tempura Scallops. It was served with Lotus steamed Jasmine Rice and Piri Piri Vinaigrette. The scallops were delicious and we enjoyed the crunchiness of the vegetables. It was paired with Kim Crawford “Unoaked” Chardonnay, Marlborough 2004.This light Chardonnay let the flavors of the scallops shine through. The Second Course was the Tamarind Glazed Duck Breast served with sesame sautéed spinach in a sauce of roasted red pepper coconut nage which was excellent. The seasoning added to this succulent dish.Chalone Vineyards “Estate” Pinot Noir Monterrey 2002 was paired and was an excellent choice. Our Main Course was the Herb Grilled Australian Rack of Lamb which was accompanied by a savory Maui onion bread pudding and pearl apple cider glaze. As ever, rack of lamb is a favorite and this was exceptional and was paired perfectly with a 2004 Napa Valley, Honig Cabernet Sauvignon. The desserts were served as a trio and were all exquisite. Roy’s Signature Hot Soufflé, a molten chocolate decadent cake was the most outrageous of the three. The Macadamia Nut Tart was interesting and light and the Pumpkin Spiced Cake was subtle and lovely. Bonny Doon “Vin de Glacier” Muscat added to the dessert course. Roy’s has maintained it’s excellence over the five years that it has been open in San Francisco by continuing to make subtle changes to satisfy the discerning Bay Area clientele.

Il Fornaio at Levi Plaza has a new Executive Chef – Partner Alfonso Sanna who is from Sardegna, Italy. He’s added a few new dishes to the menu. Try the Carpaccio de Melanzane, a grilled eggplant Antipasti and Filetto di Maiali ai Capperi, sautéed pork tenderloin which are delicious. We’ve also heard that we must try the Lasagna Di Zucca Con Ragu D’Anatra” which is Petaluma duck lasagna with butternut squash pasta, artichokes, béchamel and Parmigiano reggiano. But don’t forget about their signature wood fired Pizzas which are great with a glass or two of wine for lunch or dinner. Café Claude in San Francisco has a French Bistro atmosphere and is a great place for lunch or dinner. Their new Executive Chef Philippe Chevalier brings a wealth of experience to this Financial District restaurant. We loved the Kobe Steak Tartare with cornichons, capers, egg yolk, mustard, croutons and echalottes which was spicy and prepared fresh at our table and the fabulous Heirloom Tomato Salad. Coq Au Vin in red wine sauce with bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions is also one of our favorites. We enjoyed dinner at Chef Ola Fendert’s restaurant Oola which is South of Market and is open for late night dining. The Port Glazed Foie Gras Torchon stuffed with dried figs and served with cherries, port gastric and toast was delicious. The all Natural Baby Back Ribs were so tender they fell off the bone. We had room for dessert and loved the Coconut Crème Caramel. For a quick tasty lunch in the financial district try Sellers Markets. We loved the Tartines especially the Roasted Portobello Mushroom with red bell pepper, balsamic caramelized onion, zucchini and Jack cheese. On Broadway, Impala Chef Partner Kerry Simon offers a refined Mexican Menu in an upbeat atmosphere. You must try the memorable Chicken Albondigas Soup with chicken meatballs and vegetables in a spicy broth topped with fresh onions and cilantro. The Lobster and Grapefruit Cerviche which is a Maine Lobster poached and mixed with grapefruit, avocado and pink peppercorns was an excellent salad. The Entrée that we really enjoyed was the Tequila and Chipotle Shrimp grilled and served with jicama salad. Café De La Presse in San Francisco’s Hotel Triton had their grand opening, which we missed but look forward to dining there soon.

Wine tasting is always fun but it is always better when you have a knowledgeable and famous guide. We had the pleasure to attend a Syrah tasting called Que Syrah, Syrah led by Spencer Christian, ABC TV Weatherman and Wine Aficionado. We tasted a number of moderately priced Syrah Wines and the overall favorite was the Cline Cellars 2002 California Syrah. It was smoother than the others and deep purple in color and tasted jammy and peppery.

In the Wine Country we had a number of fantastic meals. Auberge du Soleil was our choice this year for Thanksgiving dinner and Executive Chef Robert Curry created a great menu. We loved the Foie Blond Pate with ginger poached pears and aged balsamic. The Butternut Squash Soup with Ricotta and hazelnuts was fabulous. Willie Bird Turkey with Quince stuffing, haricots verts and cranberry-red wine jus was the main attraction and did not disappoint. Dessert was Sweet Potato Pie with toasted maple marshmallows and peppered crème Anglaise. We had a great dinner and accommodations at The Lodge at Sea Ranch where the appetizers were so tempting that we never had a chance to try the entrees. We loved the Sautéed Baby Abalone. It was served with sautéed spinach with Spanish caper berries in a blood orange Beurre Blanc. Sautéed Sonoma Foie Gras was another excellent choice and probably the best we had ever eaten. It came with caramelized Fuji apple and Onion confit in apple cider- balsamic syrup. The Pepper-Seared Ahi Tuna was also delicious. It was served with haricots vert with cherry tomatoes and Calamata olives in Watermelon “Gazpacho”. For dessert you must have their Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Ghirardelli Chocolate Sauce. We loved dining with a window on nature overlooking the rugged spectacular Sonoma Coast. Another great dinner was at Carneros Bistro where Executive Chef Ercolino Crugnale used his garden herbs and vegetables to create subtle flavors. You must have the “Three Bites” Sampler. The Lemon Cucumber-Melon Salad with feta cheese and mint, The White Corn-Foie Gras Agnolotti with Chervil and The Seared Scallop with Gypsy Piperade were all delicious. It was perfect for sharing and the tastes were sensational. Our favorite Entrée was the Grilled Sonoma CK Lamb Sirloin with lamb sausage stuffed gypsy pepper; eggplant relish and Italian frying pepper aioli. It was tender and juicy and the flavors were a true taste sensation. For desserts the Coconut Panna Cotta with Blackberry Coulis was very light and delicious and the Frog Hollow Peach Crostata with Fromage Blanc Gelato was also fabulous

Cattlemans in Petaluma has fantastic Sizzling Prime Rib. It is slow roasted to lock in the flavor and is served with au jus and homemade creamy horseradish sauce. There are three cuts depending on how hungry you are. We had the 18 oz. Cattlemens Cut, which was really thick and so juicy! It was definitely the Best we’ve had recently and stacks up very favorably with the great Prime Rib we have enjoyed at The House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. The Porterhouse Steak is a huge 2 pounder known as The King of Steaks and is served with Tumbleweed Onions. Eldorado Kitchen opened in Sonoma and we had a chance to speak with the new Executive Chef Ryan Fancher, who was formally at The French Laundry in Yountville. He was pleased to now have the joy of running his own kitchen. He told us that he has been given free reign over the cuisine and was proud of what he had accomplished in the two months that they have been open. His “Wine Country Cuisine” has Mediterranean and French Bistro flair. His excellent menu comes from his experience in classic French cooking and his honed craft, working with renowned chefs Thomas Keller and Richard Reddington. We loved the Roasted Mushrooms with Hen of the Woods and King Trumpet mushrooms with duxelle cream. This is a savory vegetarian starter that was pungent, rich and delicate. Our favorite Entrée was the Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut. It was served with fingerling potatoes, fennel, calamari, nicoise olives and roasted peppers. The fish was moist and prepared perfectly. The Desserts were definitely superior. It was no surprise with the excellent creations by Pastry Chef Janet Rikala Dalton formerly at Town Hall and Postrio bringing her wealth of experience in what sophisticated diners expect in desserts. The overall favorite was the Brown Butter Crepes which consisted of Bananas foster and cinnamon ice cream.

Marin County continues to add new restaurants to please the local foodies. We dined at Picco in Larkspur and congratulated Executive Chef/ Partner Bruce Hill on his success of creating this wildly popular new restaurant. Their small plate offerings are truly wonderful as one would expect with Bruce at the helm. His slogan “Taste more-Dare to Share” fits with our philosophy as well. Try the King Salmon Crudo with lemon cucumber, blood orange ponzu and crisp shallots. The sautéed Day Boat Scallops with white corn, Anaheim chilies, green onions and red pepper juice was a taste sensation as well. For a lighter meal dine next door at their acclaimed Pizzeria Picco. The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant recently opened in Larkspur near the Ferry Landing in The Brick Kiln. Each table has its own cooking surface where you can heat, cook and dip the different courses of your meal. We enjoyed the Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue to start. It consisted of Gruyere and Emmenthaler Swiss Cheeses, white wine, garlic, nutmeg fresh lemon and Kirschwasser. It was perfect for dipping apples, bread and fresh vegetables. For our Entrée we a fondue for two which was The Surf and Turf It was a great combination of Filet Mignon, Portobello mushrooms and succulent, delicious fresh twin Lobster Tails. We chose the Coq au Vin French Countryside cooking style. The Burgundy wine with herbs mushrooms, garlic, and imported spices was a delicious way to cook our entrée. We skipped the Chocolate Fondues but will have to return just for dessert. Roland Passot’s Left Bank in Larkspur is a Parisian style Brasserie that has a fun atmosphere and fabulous French cuisine. We always enjoy the Hanger Steak Frites and the Prawns Basquaise. We also loved the Rack of Lamb. Save room for the Profiteroles.

In the East Bay, What about Bing? That’s the big question in Walnut Creek. Well, we dined at Bing Crosby’s Restaurant & Piano Lounge and had a great time. We loved the sophisticated atmosphere, Piano player Paul Roth who played old standards and of course the Martinis. We dined with an Oscar. The cuisine was classic American but the presentations were beautiful and the food fresh and tasty. Frank Palmer is the Executive Chef. The Trio of Ahi Tuna consisted of Nori Seared, Spicy Tartare and Marinated with watermelon. The Grilled Filet Mignon with black truffle demi-glace was served with braised haricot vert, spinach and crispy potato cannelloni’s. Spengers in Berkeley had a terrific 110th Anniversary Bash. We dine there many times a year, as they continue to have the largest and freshest seafood menu in the Bay Area. We recently had their Wild King Salmon which was fresh and tasty. Of course we are big fans of their Oysters either raw or pan fried. The Town House Bar & Grill in Emeryville just celebrated their 15th anniversary. It was a speakeasy back in the 1920’s and has a lively atmosphere now that suits its checkered past but is also family friendly. We loved the Grilled Gulf Shrimp with Chipotle aioli appetizer, the Asiago crusted filet of sole with caper white wine butter and potato puree entree, and the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert. Executive Chef Ellen Hope Rosenberg uses only the freshest local ingredients and it shows.

The Hot Spot in Half Moon Bay is Cetrella Bistro. We stopped in for drinks and to listen to Live Jazz. We must try it for dinner as it continues to win awards and high star ratings. We went to the Moss Beach Distillery to see their famous ghost The Blue Lady. The ghost never appeared but we did have an excellent dinner.

Down in Palm Springs the newest hot spot for elegant yet casual Palm Springs dining is Copley’s on Palm Canyon. It features California Cuisine with a Hawaiian influence created by Chef Andrew Manion Copley. We loved the Caesar Salad which has hearts of romaine, smoked apple bacon, shaved Padano cheese and fabulous hot Pineapple Croutons You must try the “OH MY”! Lobster Pot Pie. It was lobster simmered with jumbo shrimp, baby carrots, pearl onions, leeks, wild mushrooms and sweet peas in a rich, creamy Volute sauce topped with golden puff pastry. The Red Tomato and Original House of Lamb is a quirky landmark that has terrific food. We enjoyed the Veal Maddelena which was a delicious pounded veal sautéed in white wine with mushrooms and shallots, then blended with artichoke hearts, prosciutto and a light cream sauce. We also had a great time at Kobe Japanese Steak House in Rancho Mirage. The delicious Angus steak and chicken was prepared by slicing and dicing on the teppan grill by an entertaining chef at the communal table. The food was great and it was quite a show.

Our Boston trip this year was in search of Lobster. We took the advice of Boston’s famous and mysterious Phantom Gourmet and headed for Jasper White’s Summer Shack . It has a fun family friendly environment. We loved the New England clam chowder and the over the top, Best of Boston Pan Seared Roast Lobster which came in a fabulous sauce. The boiled lobster was also delicious but couldn’t top the roasted lobster. We stayed at Jurys Boston Hotel,, which was originally Back Bay’s Police Station before the $60 million preservation project. The Four Star hotel was new, elegant and had the friendliest staff. We had a great dinner at their restaurant The Stanhope Grill. We loved the Lobster Bisque, Lobster Mango Salad and Grilled Rainbow Trout. We had the pleasure to interview Executive Chef Matthew King who told us how he ran his business offering as much sustainable and local ingredients as possible. At the Atlantic Fish Company in Boston we had a great Crab Stuffed Maine Lobster Salad for lunch. The Executive Chef is Jacqueline Conway. Our last stop was Legal Sea Foods at Logan Airport where we had a leisurely excellent seafood dinner while we waited to depart. We were not disappointed as some long time Bostonians had told us we would be. The Sea Scallops and Prawns were delicious, fresh and as they say in Boston… Legal.

Until we eat again………
Roy’s Rack of Lamb
Roy’s San Francisco Executive Chef Ty Mahler
Roy’s Signature Hot Molten Chocolate Soufflé
Spencer Christian, ABC TV Weatherman and Wine Aficionado
Kobe Steak House
Il Fornaio  Executive Chef  Alfonso Sanna  
Cattlemans Sizzling Prime Rib    Oola Chef Ola Fendert      
Oola Port Glazed Foie Gras Torchon    Roland Passot’s Left Bank  Scallops
Eldorado Kitchen Executive Chef Ryan Fancher The Lodge at Sea Ranch. Sautéed Sonoma Foie Gras
Roland Passot’s Left Bank  Rack of Lamb Picco  Day Boat Scallops
Tony’s BBQ Oysters Carneros Bistro Grilled Sonoma CK Lamb Sirloin
Cafe Claude Heirloom Tomato Salad The Stanhope Grill.  Lobster Mango Salad
 Bing Crosby’s  Clambake Copley’s on Palm Canyon  “OH MY”! Lobster Pot Pie
Spengers Mrs. Spenger The Stanhope Grill Executive Chef Matthew King
The Stanhope Grill   Ahi Jasper White’s Summer Shack  Boiled Lobster
Jasper White’s Summer Shack  Pan Seared Roast Lobster