Thursday, June 21, 2012


For years I've been hearing good things about this restaurant, but a photo contest is what finally brought me through the threshold. I was on a mission to photograph a specific menu item and luckily it was a wonderful selection. Even at 6 p.m. the restaurant was lively and filled with enthusiastic diners. An industrial styled space greeted me when I walked in and so did the hostess who escorted me to a table and handed me off to the very efficient and friendly waitress. A review should not be based on one menu item, and this one won't be, but I'm not waiting to start it until my return visit. I'm starting it now and will add to it as I try more and more items. i see many visits to this restaurant in my future.

Lightly grilled calamari over canellini beans was my photo subject and has become an object of desire.

It looked dynamic on the plate with a good contrast in colors and textures, and it tasted as good as it looked. The beans were cooked fully enough to become buttery tasting against the drizzled vinaigrette from the salad.

The coil shaped sausage was presented in a fun way on a cast iron frying pan. Sauteed fennel complimented the flavor of fennel present in the sausage.

While the mussels were nicely prepared, there could have been a few more on the plate. The polenta side, seemed more generous than the main course, and inappropriately placed front and center on the plate.

My closest Italian friend always ordered gnocchi when we dined at an Italian restaurant. I finally asked why he ordered it so often, and he told me that you can tell if the restaurant is good, based on how light the gnocchi were. these were flavorful without a doubt, but not the lightest I have ever tried.

Great, we have a winner in the pasta section. The pappardelle with guanciale and baby fave was perfectly executed and tasty. It's nice to know that the pasta is house made.

Mama Mia, the spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil sauce is best left to children under five years of age. It was unremarkable at best.

The agnolotti was truly the worst pasta of the evening. It was cooked al dente bordering on raw. The pasta was still stiff as though it had been dragged through hot water in a sieve to warm it up. Herbs, grated lemon and balsamic vinegar almost reduced this to an antipasti, as did the fact that there was little heat. I walked away eating less than half of this meager portion. Thankfully I had also ordered the calamari salad, so not all was lost.

In defense of Delfina, I must say that their fine reputation is based primarily on pizza and I am assured that it is very good, but this meal left me cold enough to not return for a pizza anytime soon.

3621 - 18th St
San Francisco CA 
1 415 437-6800 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Zuni Cafe

Anyone who has been to Zuni Cafe need read no further. I, like almost everyone else, thinks it has earned its well deserved reputation for excellent food and great service. Even with a long wait for their roasted chicken, the staff knows how to keep their customers well satisfied. I've recently decided to collect cookbooks of my favorite San Francisco dining establishments and Zuni is on the list.

Like any San Francisco restaurant worth its salt, especially those specializing in comfort foods, Zuni provides guests with sour dough bread. The crumb is chewy and the sour quality is subtle. Coupled with sweet creamery butter, it makes for a good first impression. I might add that none goes to waste, as you'll see later.
The  croutons  for the Zuni Caesar  salad are made from their sour dough bread (that didn't take long) and are memorable enough to have encouraged me to make some of my own at home. I live with a Caesar salad aficionado, so I've tasted scores of them. Zuni rates high on the list. Their dressing is excellent and as an interesting note, the addition of egg is discussed table side as you place your order. Yes, please, add the egg. The plating is also high on the list because of the whole leaves being used. It seems so much fresher tasting when the leaves are not cut or torn in advance, waiting in some corner of the kitchen to be ordered.
What a nice way Zuni has with pasta. This was a first, semolina and ricotta gnocchi. I don't think the Italians even thought of this one, but Zuni did and they were light as a feather; the classic Italian test for excellent gnocchi. The baby carrots were tender and their delicate flavor was not overpowered by the very light handed  cream sauce. I look forward to trying more of their pasta if this dish was any indication of their ability to improvise.
Zuni has a very nice system for serving raw oysters. You are allowed to order them by the variety, mix and match and since they are priced by the piece, your order may be as small as a single oyster. This was my best opportunity for discovering which oyster I might prefer,  and it wasn't wasted. I tried a Point Reyes, Marin Miyagi, and Humbolt Kumamoto and the Kumamoto won out. All were delicious and I have to thank Zuni for this learning experience.
If a quick lunch is all you need, you might consider a burger and fries. The French couldn't make a better fry than Zuni does. The pickled onion and cucumber on the burger were excellent condiments, and ripe tomatoes always make a burger better, but there was one flaw. The focaccia fell apart because of the juices from these additions, as well as the burger itself. That did not keep us from eating every bit of the burger, but it was messy.

About that chicken, there were so many raves and articles written about it, I needed to discover its taste for myself. Saving the best for last is appropriate in this particular instance, and it came as a pleasant surprise, having not ordered restaurant cooked chicken for many years. Juicy, tender, succulent, bursting with flavor, all come to mind. It was also perfectly seasoned with a hint of smoke from the wood fired oven. What really stood out was the salad, the warm bread salad, made with, yes, their sourdough bread. 
Besides the spicy notes from the red Mizuna leaves, the salad was laced with pine nuts and small red, dried currants for added notes of flavor. Considering there were so few ingredients in this relatively simple dish, with all those flavors layered one upon another, it had more complexity than one might imagine. A quick Google search found a recipe that indicated the dressing was made with olive oil and champagne vinegar, while the currants were plumped with red wine vinegar. Sliced scallions completed the ingredient list. Delicious!
1658 Market St
San Francisco CA 94102
(415) 552-2522

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bentigodi da Domenico

Another dark, brooding interior defines this Venetian restaurant, but on the brighter side there's a charming, sun dappled patio out front. It's far enough away from the tourist trail by  to be quiet and relaxing, yet close enough to be easy to find. I'll test this idea when I look for it on our next visit to Venice.

Finalmente!!! A restaurant serving bread with a higher purpose than to sop up sauce, a bread that actually had flavor, has been found. On many trips to Venice, we have seen and purchased quality bread, but the restaurants seemed to have overlooked these. Finding sesame grissini and these rosemary rolls was a real pleasure that foretold what we might reasonably expect from the lunch we had ordered. The menu items were not the "usual suspects", but sounded imaginative enough to believe that the chef really enjoyed cooking with emphasis on both its regional and seasonal aspects.

Our shared appetizer was a cow's milk Tomino cheese wrapped in red radicchio that has been grilled until the cheese melted and sauteed. It was served with a dipping sauce, made primarily of butter and what I believe may have been a splash of orange juice. Tomino can be traditionally served with sauteed radicchio, but these little bundles are what gave this combination a life of its own.

Our niece, Katie, went with the seafood ravioli or agnolotti. I'm not certain what it was listed as on the menu, but it was a filled pasta by any name. It was served with a scampi, the first Katie had ever seen;can you tell? It was a very successful dish with a rich seafood filling blanketed with a light, seafood infused tomato sauce.

My selection was a bit riskier as it was totally out of my personal frame of reference. It was a zucca (winter squash) gnocchi sitting in a frico (melted Parmigiano or Grana) basket, covered in a butter sauce. The tiny orange specks may have been minced carrot or even more zucca. I had to order it, if for no other reason than, to take a photograph of a "primi" served in a cheese basket. Since the basket didn't photograph well, I considered it a bad choice, but it tasted good and was inventive. 

Bentigodi Website

The Bentigodi website has a useful map that shows directions that are very easy to follow. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

All Season Restaurant

I wanted to like this restaurant, for nostalgia sake at least, because it inhabits the old Yet Wah location in Diamond Heights where I'd eaten many a great Chinese meal. The staff was welcoming, it was loaded with Chinese families, always a good sign, but nothing good came from the kitchen.

The won ton soup looked good, vegetables were not overcooked, but something was missing in the broth. It was so bland we had to add soy sauce and chili paste just to give it some flavor, any flavor at all. If broth is going to be the largest component of the soup, it should taste like something.

Chinese Chicken Salad as you can see was mostly lettuce and fried mung bean noodle, with very little chicken and a lackluster dressing. In fairness, no one has ever been able to surpass the Yet Wah chicken salad with plum sauce salad dressing and chopped peanuts. Every other I've tried has been a disappointment, but this was an abysmal failure.

Now we're getting somewhere, the Sweet & Sour Pork was well prepared with decent chunks of pork fried in a batter. It was all pork,  no signs of pineapple, bell pepper, or onion, but perhaps that is not traditional, although it seems usual in most other Chinese restaurants. No points off for lack of vegetables, but the sauce was again very bland.

Finally, a good, well seasoned dish that I could return for or recommend, if only everything else was better. However, the Walnut Prawns did live up to expectations and were as good as any others I have eaten. For a restaurant with "season" in its name, this place lacked seasoning in all but one of the four dishes we tried. I hear the dim sum is very good,  but this restaurant is overpriced for its sub par to average food, so I'm in no hurry to give it a try.

5238 Diamond Heights Bl
San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 282-8883