Food and Beverage News from San Francisco by Carol and Joe Davis, epicures with a unique and
insightful perspective on Food in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area


The facts
and only the facts.
Together, Joe and Carol understand what "people of taste" expect in a good dining experience. They also understand the importance the Chef plays in a restaurant's success! Thus, when a Chef makes a move in San Francsico it is a Big Event!
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Toque of San Francisco
December 2003

Where has this year gone? 2003 is rapidly ending and 2004 is right on its heels. It has been a “better” year in general for the San Francisco dining scene. The economy leveled off and the tourists were back, although not at peak levels. San Francisco was again lauded for good reasons by numerous media sources, as one of the Best Dining Cities in the World.

San Francisco saw the Watergate Restaurant open on Nob Hill. We attended the Grand Opening Event and were treated to some of their best. We loved the Roasted Herb Pecan Crusted Rack of Lamb, Crab Cakes which were a cut above and the perfect Ginger Crème Brule. Chef Walter Liang and General Manager Rebecca Kwan have a hit with their high quality cuisine and reasonable prices making Watergate a prime Nob Hill fine dining destination. Town Hall opened on Howard Street, South of Market, with a team from Postrio including Chef-Proprietor’s Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal, General Manager, Doug Rosenthal and Dessert Chef Janet Rikala Dalton. Its pleasing atmosphere, “New American” menu, and quality team are sure to make it very successful.

We enjoyed being Judges at the 10th Annual Shuck & Swallow Oyster Challenge held at McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant in Ghirardelli Square. Teams from local restaurants competed to see who would be this year’s champion. Scott Dammann’s team from East Side West in The Marina with Martin Chimas and John Marrs won with a total of 140 oysters shucked and swallowed beating last year’s record of 138. All proceeds went to the Surviving Family Fund Local 798 of The San Francisco Fire Fighters.

We also dined at McCormick & Kuleto’s a few weeks later. We had a great seafood dinner and enjoyed the stylish décor and stunning Bay views. Executive Chef Armen Jeghelian, who has been there for 5 years, has managed to create delicate yet bold flavors which are complex but true to the natural flavors. We loved our Scallop Appetizer and the Salmon stuffed with Crab was delicious. The multilevel seating makes it a great destination restaurant in Ghirardelli Square. Bobiviqua Steak House is the newest addition to Classic Steak Houses in San Francisco and has already received great reviews. We still love The House of Prime Rib for special occasions. Nearby, Habana Bar- Restaurante, “Sabor De Cuba” opened on Van Ness by Chef-Proprietor Joseph Kohn and Partner Sam Duval (Izzy’s Steak House) is bringing that Hot Hot Hot Cuban theme that is a sure winner. We hear that the Pato Capri a Pan seared Duck Breast with tamarind chili glaze, smoked bacon and yellow squash is delicious. We had a terrific Power Lunch at One Market. It always impresses clients when there’s a celebrity sighting and who better than Joe Montana to enliven the atmosphere. We loved Executive Chef Adrian Hoffman’s grilled Hawaiian Prawns. San Francisco even got its first Hooters which drew the biggest crowd in all Hooters’ history for any opening. To date we haven’t made it but there’s a bachelor party coming up that it might be an appropriate venue. Jitney’s Bar & Grill opened on Broadway and is a fine destination for Live Jazz and comfort food. The controversy of the year has been the Fois Gras Revolt. Aqua was picketed by animal rights advocates.

In the East Bay, we enjoyed a satisfying Italian dinner at Bar Ristorante Raphael in Berkeley. Chef Domenico Testa from Lazio, Southern Italy and Noah Alper founder of Noah’s Bagels recently opened this Authentic Italian Kosher Restaurant. The décor has a Mediterranean touch with murals on the walls. The meatless menu is perfect for Vegetarians and Vegans as well as those who enjoy fresh fish dishes. As a starter, we had Funghi Trifolati which was savory sautéed mushrooms in garlic, white wine and parsley. The Fresh Halibut was delicious but the best Entrée was the light and tasty Gnocchi Aurora, potato pillows in tomato cream sauce with parmesan. Probably the best Gnocchi we’ve ever tasted. Downtown Oakland has a great new stylish upscale restaurant near the convention center, Twist, in the Washington Inn. Twist brings a very high level of dining to “Old Oakland”. George Wong the Executive Chef really knows his way with sauces and the dinner we had was exceptional. We fell in love with the warm Grilled Prawns and Avocado Salad with cucumbers, grapefruit and butter lettuce with perfect grapefruit vinaigrette! The Dungeness Crab Cake Appetizer gets our highest praise as well. The Entrees were terrific and we enjoyed the Lobster Tail in raspberry- champagne reduction served with red potatoes and an Aegean and garbanzo bean salad and the Lamb Loin Chops Gremolata with haricots verts, Yukon – gold mashed potatoes and sweet pepper ratatouille. White Chocolate and Cabernet Raspberry Gelato for Dessert was the perfect finish to a great meal. We recommended Twist and recently dined there with friends who were equally impressed. The Blackhawk Grill in Danville has a new Chef Scott Sasaki who brings his experience and superior skills from The French Laundry and Lark Creek Inn with dishes such as the Beet Medley Salad and Peking Crisp Duck a la Orange Entree. Ginger Island in Berkeley has a new menu and has attracted a more upscale crowd. We loved the Smoked Salmon and Avocado Sandwich and the Ginger Pudding!

Views and fine dining usually don’t always mix but we found a few destinations in the East Bay that buck the trend. We enjoyed our Lobster Salad lunch at Paragon in the Claremont Resort which has a San Francisco and Bay view. The Dead Fish in Crockett’s Chef Andrea Froncillo knows how to please with a fabulous Killer Crab Sandwich and Caesar Crab Salad. This restaurant overlooks the Carquinez Straits and the new Zampa Bridge. Skates on the Bay in Berkeley has a spectacular San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge view and has the Best Key Lime Pie this side of Key West.

Up in the North Bay, young Chefs are getting their chance to shine. Sassafras recently opened in Santa Rosa. Chef proprietor Jack Mitchell told us that after 20 years of working for others he is so pleased to be able to make all the decisions and do things his way. We loved the Baked Brie, Black Mission Figs, Hobbs Prosciutto and aged balsamic appetizer. Try the “Surf & Turf” Entrée with his signature Pan Fried Lobster. There are always Special Events so check their website .Jean-Claude Balek Chef-Partner brings his wealth of experience to The Wolf House in Glen Ellen. Honing his craft at The California Culinary Academy and under the tutelage of Jeremiah Tower and Gary Danko his “Sonoma Valley Cuisine” is well worth the drive. We loved The Sparkling Wine Battered Prawns with Upland Cress Salad appetizer and The Pan Roasted Skate Wing served with Crème Fraiche smashed potatoes and truffle braised endive in a brown butter sauce entree. The Classic Lemon Tart was a terrific Dessert and the perfect ending to a great dining experience. At The Buckeye in Mill Valley Chef Robert Price continues to get rave reviews even from Michael Bauer. We’ve loved his cuisine since we first met at P. J. Mulhearns in San Francisco. The Girl and the Fig in Petaluma is also drawing big crowds with their excellent cuisine and River Views. We finally made it to The Martini House in St. Helena and had a lovely lunch dining outdoors. We couldn’t believe it was open for 2 years already. First Crush opened a second location in Mill Valley and the early reviews are that it’s casual upscale atmosphere and delicious cuisine at reasonable prices is just as good as the San Francisco location. Executive Chef Jacob Whitener who was trained at the California Culinary Academy and worked at Chez Papa, is in charge of the Mill Valley location. Try the Pan Seared Scallops. Brix in Yountville is a great destination for lunch or dinner. The vegetable garden and vineyards behind the restaurant with the mountains in the background make it an idyllic setting. Executive Chef Ryan Jackson has changed the menu to more of seasonal foods including grilled meats and seafood. We loved the Pan Roasted Filet Mignon with potato puree, glazed root vegetables in a green peppercorn sauce. The Ross Valley Brewing Company with new Chef James Lloyd, previously at Paragon, is making people think better of Brew Pub food. We enjoyed the Crispy Polenta with wild mushrooms as a starter and the spicy Southern Style Jambalaya entree. Our desert was fabulous, Chocolate Banana Cream Pie! Of course they brew some excellent beer, as well as root beer and orange cream soda.

San Jose is now officially on the Fine Dining map. Chef Michael Mina has put it there. He opened the fashionable upscale Arcadia in The San Jose Marriott bringing his Signature Lobster Pot Pie (We loved it at Nob Hill Restaurant in Las Vegas) and Dry Aged Roasted Prime Rib entrees along with his Modern American style. Santana Row was not far behind realizing that the South Bay was starved for fine dining with new additions like Yankee Pier, The Left Bank and Blowfish Sushi.

Las Vegas is still one of our favorite vacation destinations. The World Class Chef’s continue to flock there to please the discerning diners. The Bellagio has some of the best restaurants and we particularly enjoyed a great lunch at Olives Restaurant. Todd English Chef -Proprietor offers a fabulous Capriccio and Flatbread with fig and cheese.

We took a weekend trip to Tahoe City on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore and dined at Wolfdale’s overlooking the beautiful blue lake. As a pioneer in Asian California Cuisine for over 25 years, Executive Chef - Proprietor Doug Dale, has blended the flavors of the West and Far East to create “Cuisine Unique” We can’t praise this superb dinner enough! We loved the Tuna Sashimi with Ginger, Arame, and Wasabi appetizer and the Seared Alaskan Halibut with Thai Basil Pesto and Green Thai Curry over Jasmine Rice Entrée which was poached and crispy. For dessert we had the delicious Peach Kuchen with Chantilly Cream. The food was so good as we enjoyed each course our appetites increased and we felt just wonderful after the meal!
Another fun in the sun destination is Palm Springs. There are many new restaurants now that it is really a year-round city. Executive Chef Matthew Perez at The La Quinta Cliffhouse has some excellent menu choice to go with the incredible views of the valley. We particularly enjoyed the Grilled Prawns and Scallops over a bed of garlic mashed potatoes and shellfish reduction with asparagus and edible flowers on top. Save room for the outrageous Hula Pie.
We stayed at The Plaza on a very short trip to New York City and had a chance to have a few classic New York meals. There is no better way to impress relatives than Lunch at The Plaza’s Palm Court. We enjoyed Italian food in Little Italy on Mulberry Street at Angelo which just celebrated their 101st Anniversary serving Neapolitan Cuisine. Don’t leave New York without dining at The Carnegie Deli where the Matzo Ball Soup, huge Pastrami and Corn Beef Sandwiches and unbelievable Cherry Cheese Cake were “To Die For”.

We tried a few new products that we enjoyed. Hamstead Teas offers a pure organic tea that is biodynamic and a fair trade single estate Darjeeling tea which is very flavorful. Nutra Foodies will be pleased to know that they have a great new alternative to satisfy their sweet tooth, Cloud Nine Chocolates. They have great taste with fruit and nuts which are all natural with nothing artificial added. Tropical Source Chocolates are dairy free and gluten free…. making our Vegan friends very happy! They made us feel better about eating chocolate knowing that they were healthy.
Zagart Survey 2004 is out and the top 5 Bay Area Restaurants are Boulevard, Gary Danko, French Laundry, Aqua, and Chez Panisse.
We’re looking forward to another exciting year in 2004.

Until we eat again…

New for the Toques!
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All Photos © Joe Davis
Watergate Restaurant
Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb
Watergate Restaurant, San Francisco
Chef Walter Liang
House of Prime Rib
"King's Cut"

McCormick and Kuleto's
Excitive Chef Armen Jeghelian

10th Annual Shuck and Swallow
Oyster Challenge -East Side West Winners
(center) Martin Chimas, (right) John Marrs

10th Annual Shuck and Swallow
Oyster Challenge
Judge Carol Davis (l.) and Winnner

10th Annual Shuck and Swallow
Oyster Challenge
Runners Up

Dining Room.
Twist Restaurant

Paragon at The Claremont
Lobster Salad Lunch

Rafael Ristorante, Berkely
Chef/Owner, domenico Testa

Rafael Ristorante

Jack Mitchel, Chef/Proprietor

Heirloom Tomatoe Salad

Baked Brie, Black Mission Figs, Hobbs Prosciutto

Wolf House

Wolf House
Fig and Goat Cheese Dessert

James Lloyd (left)
Executive Chef, Ross Valley Brewing Company

Ross Valley Brewing Company

Wolfdale's, Tahoe City
Douglas Dale, Chef/Owner

Wolfdale's House
Scallop Appetizers
Wolfdale's House
Alaskan Halibut with Thai Basil Pesto

Matthew Perex, Executive Chef
La Quinta Cliff House

La Cuinta Cliff House
Grilled Prawns and Scallops

Carnegie Deli, New York
Cherry Cheese Cake

The Plaza
Delicious Dessert