Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wine Kitchen

Living in the Western Addition or, as it is now called, N.O.P.A. North of Pan Handle, we have come to expect interesting, quality restaurants within the last decade. We have become a gourmet gulch of sorts with new restaurants opening whenever a space becomes available. Wine Kitchen is one such restaurant that exhibits not only quality, but fills the niche of providing the neighborhood with a wine bar that includes outstanding small plate dining.
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On our very first visit we both wanted to try the olives, because the price was the lowest we had seen. With low expectations, we were delighted with the selection of olives including Lucques from France, which are never sold cheaply. We have been ordering them every time we stop by.
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Fried squash blossoms can be simple, but the chef is far too talented to let his dish go out without some embellishment. The red  pepper puree and roasted vegetable condiment, that included corn, bell peppers and basil, lit up the flavor like a rocket. Until this moment, I had never thought fried squash blossoms needed anything except for the occasional mozzarella and anchovy filling. Taking a classic and making it your own shows great culinary skill.
It’s not for everyone, but black pudding or blood sausage is common among European cultures, so it was worth a try. The grilled peach and pickled red onion were a nice sweet and sour contrast to the rich pudding, but it truth, this one was a bit under cooked. I have every confidence that I could have sent it back for further cooking, but I decided to eat it as it was intended by the chef.
Another small bite that we had seriously underestimated, while ordering, was the corn fritter. They were loaded with corn kernels which worked well for textural contrast. Being paired with a sweet chili sauce was inspirational, perhaps simple, but nothing we had tried before.
It is not usual to find exceptional Italian cooking in a restaurant not designated as Italiain, but Wine Kitchen produced the lightest gnocchi we have seen outside of Italy. The pea and wild mushroom gnocchi would be easy to order again and again. The only improvement that could have been accomplished in Italy would be the inclusion of fresh porcini mushrooms, which are very hard to come by in California. They are around, but cost prohibitive if they are judged by the specialty grocery price of $39 per pound.
Another impressive plate showed the originality of ahi sashimi paired with avocado, mustard sprouts and most importantly, red quinoa. It was our introduction to this flavorful and light grain. The contrast of textures was exemplary with the silky tuna and avocado alongside the crunchy grain. Wine Kitchen can provide you with a small cheese plate that is perfect with a good glass of red wine or beer at the end of your visit.
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Besides red, white, and rose wines by the glass, beer and dessert wines are also available at Wine Kitchen. The wine list is short, but long on flavor. The wine buyer has an educated nose and it seems as though each bottle and vintage is individually selected. Care was put into this selection and it shows.
Since they offer dessert wine, it might be a good idea to try a dessert. It definitely was. Their green tea Creme Brulee with chocolate covered strawberries was savory with a mild sweetness and not cloyingly sweet as feared.

Wine Kitchen Website

507 Divisadero St
San Francisco CA 94117
1 415 525-3485

Monday, May 11, 2015

Candy Bar

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What a great idea for a restaurant; one devoted entirely to dessert and drinks. Usually you’d end up in a bakery if you only wanted a dessert, but Candy Bar creates atmosphere and their evening hours, along with alcohol, offer a sophistication sorely lacking in bakeries.

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Drinks are limited, thanks in part to the liquor license situation in San Francisco. When one does become available, the price is prohibitive for a new business. Most restaurants settle for serving wine and beer or, in this case, wine and fruit juice drinks laced with sake or Prosecco. The drinks are as good as the imagination of the bartender.

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Speaking of creativity, the chef, Cathleen Li, is no slouch as you can see by these photos. Each plate is composed of an ice cream, cake or tart, and crumbly bits, with fruit, nuts, or even gelatin cubes to add more texture. It’s an adventure, just trying each component; then tasting them together. With all the work involved, I don’t understand how they can afford to price the desserts as low as they do. Everything is handmade, including the ice cream.

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Everything eaten here has been outstanding in visual appeal, taste combinations, and the quality of the ingredients. There are some items that pop up often, but the menu is constantly changing. My personal favorite has to be the red velvet cake with intensely flavored peppermint ice cream. It is one of the most simple combinations and seems to be seasonal during winter months. It’s certain that Santa would prefer it to cookies and milk.


For those of you who may have noticed that the menu in the photo with drinks was not from Candy Bar, I should mention that the owners of Candy Bar have another unique venture. They also own Kung Fu Tacos, a taco truck that can be seen at many food truck stops around town on various nights of the week. It used to park outside Candy Bar on Thursday evenings. I will personally vouch for the roast duck tacos. If you call, they can tell you whether or not the truck still stops by the dessert lounge.



Candy Bar Website

As of this writing, Candy Bar is CLOSED, 

but has been replaced by Ju-Ni, a Japanese fish restaurant that imports Japanese species of fish. I can't wait to try it.

1335 Fulton St.
San Francisco CA 94117
1 415 673-7078

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

El Mercado Urbano


Could anything be better than the contemporary Mexican Cuisine at La Urbana? Here’s the answer: Yes, the small plates served next door at the restaurant’s attached garage space, sometimes referred to as El Garaje. La Urbana’s food is exquisite, but pricy. What was originally conceived as a small space for private parties and beer drinking has transformed into a very casual lunch venue with a late afternoon “happy hour”.

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Bottled and draft beers seem to dominate the card tables in this room, however, the red wine and citrus sangria is excellent and well worth a try. If you decide on the Sangria, my suggestion is to buy a pitcher, since the per glass price seems steep by comparison. Personally, I find it difficult to order anything but the Agua Sandia (Watermelon Aqua Fresca). The color provides enough inspiration for me to order it. Horchata is sometimes available and their version of this rice, cinnamon drink is as good as it gets.

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The Sopes alone are reason enough to stop by for a bite. In the above photos you can see their thick cornmeal patties filled to the brim with refried beans and topped with meats as exotic as barbacoa style short ribs in a heavy Mole sauce, roasted chicken, carne asada and carnitas, the Mexican classic pulled pork. Each is then topped with avocado and cilantro with a squeeze of lime. How much do these cost? They are being given away for a mere $3 each. Two are satisfying and make a cheap meal. The short rib meat is truly a bargain, because it is 1/3 to 1/4 the size of La Urbana’s  short rib entree that costs $24 with pureed potatoes and vegetables tossed in for color.

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Tacos can be had with the same fillings, though the sauces change from time to time. Queso fresco cheese was added to the batch pictured in the top photo, but not always. Smaller photos show carnitas again, a roasted vegetable and chorizo taco, a predominantly roasted corn filling with both avocado and queso fresco, and finally a braised short rib taco. There is so much filling on the tacos, that I often order extra tortillas. Again, these delectable morsels are sold for $3 each, but drop to $2 each at happy hour. Anyone could be happy eating one or more of these.


On their daily menu you may sometimes find a fish taco for $5. It was good and the size commanded a larger tortilla, but I’ve had enough fish tacos to know of several that I prefer to these.

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These photos make it clear that the tacos are made with a very generous portion of the meat and poultry fillings. From left to right we have shredded chicken, barbacoa style short ribs with a spicy chile sauce, carnitas, carne asada, then more chicken and carnitas.

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Although I usually stick to the tacos, upon occasion the daily menu will offer a tempting diversion. The chicken salad was good, but not outstanding, however, the Mexican sandwich, typically called a torta, was very good and big enough for many of us to be satisfied by eating only half. It would be impossible to overspend at this venue. I’ll bet their catering business is more than busy.

La Urbana Website with mention of El Mercado Urbano

661 Divisadero St  
San Francisco CA 94117  
1 415 440-4500