Thursday, April 24, 2008

Le P'tit Laurent

Now I regret ever having moved from Glen Park. Le P'tit Laurent has to be the best new "neighborhood" restaurant in the city and it's small enough to avoid becoming a destination restaurant for the masses. The food is so classically French that is does momentarily transport one to Paris (as does the faux painting in the corner that makes one believe the restaurant is directly under the Eiffel Tower), until the patrons speaking English bring you back to reality. One could easily book a standing reservation here with no regrets. Offering a 3 course meal for $19.99 will certainly bring me back often.

Two of us split an order of mussels to start our dinner. If half an order is what you see in the photo above, and it is, it's obvious that the portions are generous. Anxious to start eating, the photo didn't get taken or even thought of until after I had removed the shells. All the better to see the plump mussels and savory broth that was sopped up with the never ending basket of sliced baguette. It look 6 hours, by the menu account, to braise the lamb shank and it was falling off the bone tender. The sauteed Swiss chard and wine sauce were not as photogenic as they were tasty.

Cassoulet, the penultimate culinary barometer of a French bistro did not disappoint, and clearly identified the excellent quality of this restaurant in one bite. It was perhaps the best I have ever tasted. At the very least, is was my favorite of any I have tasted. Profiteroles rounded out the meal. The chocolate sauce was fit for a chocoholic and smelled good enough to be noticed by my dinner partner.

Our companions were also complimentary of their frisee salad, mussels and New York steak. All in all, it was a wonderful dining experience. Another classic French feature of this restaurant was the fact that we were not rushed after being at the table for almost 3 hours.

Le P'tit Laurent
699 Chenery St

San Francisco, CA 94131

Phone: (415) 334-3235

33rd Street Grill

While on an outing with friends in Sacramento our plans for lunch were up in the air. We had planned on dining at Biba, but the restaurant does not serve lunch on Saturdays. Also on our short list was The Waterboy, a Southern French and Italian restaurant that intrigued me the one time I walked by it. They also did not serve lunch on Saturdays. We needed a Plan B in a hurry but none of us were familiar with other restaurants. Our outing was a shopping trip to Corti Brothers, an upscale market, so I looked around, found a stylish looking woman who confirmed that she lived in Sacramento. I asked for her suggestion, naming the other two restaurants as a point of reference. Without hesitation she suggested 33rd Street Grill on the corner of Folsom and 33rd and a block from the freeway for our return trip home. We were already on Folsom, so what could be easier for us? It turned out to be perfect for a casual lunch, not so upscale, but pleasant.
The starters ($5.95 - $8.95) were good portions and interesting combinations of ingredients. French fries came with creamy blue cheese, spicy peach ketchup, and malt vinegar. Fried artichoke hearts were regrettably made from frozen or canned, not fresh, artichokes and lacked the characteristic taste of the fresh vegetable; but they were nicely battered, perfectly crisp and the grated parmigiano was a nice addition along with the aioli. Frozen or not, we polished them off without much hesitation, difficulty or complaint.
We all agreed that the cannellini bean and artichoke spread with crostini was the best of the three items we ordered to start off our meal. I was amazed at the portion considering the $5.95 price. One could have easily eaten just that for lunch, it was so generous a portion of food with 5 baguette slices of large proportion. The beans and marinated artichoke hearts were obviously right out of the can and jar, but pulsed together and drizzled with a grassy live oil made them delicious as a crostini spread. Olive tapenade added even more dimension to the flavor. Reordering this would not be difficult to do maybe even worth another trip.
The Chop chop salad was a large portion and a big hit. We must have been in the throes a food frenzy by the time the pannini came, because I completely forgot to photograph the one made from Chipotle rubbed pork with Gorgonzola spread on Ciabatta and the one in the photograph below is a complete mystery at this point in time. What I do remember is the Jerk short rib with lime and creme fraiche which was not as spicy as I had expected, but tender.
Including passion fruit drinks with little to no passion fruit taste (several had to be ordered to make sure the first was not an aberration), we did have a few other problems. Mayo was added to sandwiches with no mention in the description, a sauce that was ordered on the side was spread inside another sandwich, the Creme Brulee was burnt to the bitter point and the Key Lime pie had way too much crust and cream, but too little filling. Of the 3 items on our dessert Trio, the Caramel Sea Salt cheesecake was the best in what amounted to a lackluster group, but it was very good. As you can see by the photo, we went at it prior to picking up the camera.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Biba Revisited

Biba serves Lasagne Verdi Bolognese ($18.00) every Thursday and Friday. One can only wonder how long it will take for the 3 day work week to commence. In the interim, taking a vacation day to eat lunch at this fine dining, Sacramento restaurant is well worth the effort it takes to get there, and so is the lasagne. Because this capable Northern Italian restaurant serves seasonal menus, it seems appropriate to review it a second time.

The Romaine and Gorgonzola salad ($6) reminded me of a Cesar without anchovies but was a nice light first course and our dining companion seemed to enjoy it. Did you notice I slipped in another photo of the Lasagne Verdi? It is so Bolognese, so Italian, so exemplary in taste, that it deserves another photo. Even though the menu lists it as having 7 layers, it arrived at the table with 10 layers and filled the rim soup bowl it was served in, to this diner's delight. It was so perfectly executed with Bechamel and Bolognese meat sauce lightly skimming the surface of each spinach flavored pasta sheet, that is almost melted in your mouth. Was it a twist of fate that Biba Caggiano moved to Northern California and opened this restaurant, or Divine Providence? I vote for the latter.

One of the entrees ordered was chicken with sweet peppers in a tomato sauce served over grilled polenta. Biba's polenta is so delicious when it is first cooked that one would hesitate to order it grilled (a day old and reheated leftover) but I was assured by the person who ordered it that the texture was still creamy inside. The next entree was grilled lamb on a skewer that included peppers, red onion and hot Italian sausage. Very nice, but it would have been better had it been all lamb. I had misread the menu, so the sausage was actually a surprise when it arrived. The mashed potatoes that came with it were rich and creamy with the definite addition of Parmigiano and butter or Mascarpone, or possibly both. In Bologna, they are brought to the table and the Parmigiano is sprinkled on top. This particular treatment was silkier in texture. Biba compares favorably to the best restaurants in Bologna.

This time we ordered Zuccotto Fiorentino as our dessert to share. Two courses at this restaurant are very filling, but it's always nice to have a taste of something sweet to end the meal. Mostly frozen whipped cream with chocolate, hazelnuts, almonds, a thin layer of rum soaked sponge cake and a chocolate frosting, this "dolce" was just what we needed.

After little deliberation, I believe it may be necessary and only fair to review a restaurant with seasonal menus at least 4 times. That means a return visit to Biba in Summer and Fall...I can manage that!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You May Have TASTE, But Have You Dined There?

Plymouth California in Amador County has more than gold to attract visitors, it has a thriving wine industry clustered in and around Shenandoah Road. But it also has a diamond in its midst, Taste Restaurant. The owners were brilliant in locating their restaurant in this town, because most people who love excellent wine also love exceptional food. I don't know if the restaurant has an interest, but there is also a gourmet market across the street, so I envision more fine dining in the future of this small town. Still, as it stands, Taste Restaurant is a destination in and of itself.

To start, a bread basket with olive oil and balsamic vinegar is placed on each table. The staff was kind enough to replace our dipping "sauce" with just the olive oil. The bread, from a bakery in Amador City that will be relocating to Sutter Creek, was incredibly good with a perfect crumb and crust. We ordered another basket of bread and although were charged for it, thought it was worth every penny (all 400 of them). One starter we had to order was seared foie gras served with a pineapple chutney, hazelnut, black pepper crisp, and rosemary grilled brioche.

Our second starter was a smoked duck, maitake mushroom, mixed greens, shaved asparagus salad, topped with a lemon and truffle vinaigrette, and a poached egg, apparently fresh from the chicken...look at that yolk! Both starters were excellent. The salad had a green that I couldn't identify but was similar to Mizuna. The lemon and truffle oil worked so well with the asparagus, that I'm inspired to use them together in the near future. The smoked duck must have been prepared in house as it was so succulent, not like commercially prepared smoked duck I've eaten before.

On to the larger plates, menu items were divided into small plates and large plates. The photo above is of the NY steak smothered in mixed mushrooms, accompanied by a delicious potato gnocchi and organic Swiss chard, which looks like broccoli rabe in this photo. Perhaps they made a substitution.

The Colorado rack of lamb was superb and a perfect medium rare, as ordered. It came with baby carrots and a Spring pea "cake" that was coarsely mashed peas, onions and perhaps a small amount of mint. It was a grand idea and excellent partner to the lamb. The lemon gremolata was perfect with the lamb, but I failed to taste the lavender sauce that was mentioned on the menu, one of the reasons I chose this entree.
Even though we were full, not that that has ever stopped us, we ordered desserts. The puff pastry in the first photo was filled with a light pastry cream and fresh fruits, surrounded by a barely perceptible clear, banana flavored sauce (click on the photo to enlarge, maybe you can see it then).
The second photo shows a lime coconut panna cotta with toasted coconut on top and a cashew candy side on a thick, dark chocolate sauce. It was fine panna cotta, but the dark chocolate did not enhance anything but the cashew brittle, and that it did well.

One has to wonder how a fine restaurant like this will manage during months when the tourists are not plentiful. The management team is very smart in that respect, they offer a three course fixed price dinner for $30.00 and that should keep the locals coming back.

Open Thursday - Monday

9402 Main Street
Plymouth, California 95669