amuse bouche

At the suggestion of a friend who also happens to double as a local San Francisco restaurant critic, I made it a point to visit Bouche in the gastronomic wasteland of Union Square. I’m very glad I did. Convenient to an evening’s theatre plans, Guillaume Issaverdens’ unassuming hidden California-French bistro proved a welcome surprise of seasonal food amid charming surroundings. Tucked into an upstairs corner with views through mullioned windows the restaurant has all the rustic allure of a Loire farmhouse. A bottle of one of those wines you almost never find on a domestic wine list only reinforces the illusion. (Domaine Auchere Sancerre Rouge, as refreshing a spring red as you’re likely to ever find) Expectations henceforth were felicitously met: a deliriously good duck confit with beet puree and walnuts arrived under a bouquet of radish and spring greens. Sauteed calamari lightly dressed with mushrooms and citrus made a refreshing, less intense companion and foil. Lamb shoulder balanced the difficult task of tasting earthy without being too fatty or filling an entrée. (chickpea puree instead of potato was a clever deception) And a Proustian nod to the marinated salmon; one of those dishes I will be able to recall years hence. Delicately smoked slices of ruby red salmon come coiled atop a bird’s nest of crispy egg noodle, floating on a bed of creme fraiche. Nestled inside the nest: a perfectly poached egg. Creamy, crunchy, salty, smoky, the liaison of flavors and textures is heady, if not downright erotic. After this, dessert seems altogether unnecessary – what I really want is a cigarette.

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playing with fire

BlueFire Grill is by far one of highlights at La Costa. Under the assured hand of Chef de Cuisine, Greg Frey, the casually upmarket restaurant serves a more modern take on locally inspired cuisine –  emphasizing seafood and seasonality. Baja Ceviche is a standout, mixing halibut, stone crab, and persian cucumber in a carrot and citrus reduction. So, too, is the Fritto Misto, enlivened with a togarashi-flecked crust and smoked garlic remoulade. Pacific Chinook Salmon is as you’d expect: crisp-skinned and perfectly cooked. The addition of cauliflower sauce and a winter squash gratin turn the dish into the SoCal equivalent of comfort food – as perfect for a chilly January night as a favorite cashmere sweater. (Special diets are surprisingly well-served, too: almost half the menu is either vegan or vegetarian while nearly everything can be prepared gluten-free.) Dessert doesn’t disappoint either. A chocolate caramel creme fraiche tart is decadent and rich, while two scoops of blackberry Cabernet sorbet make for a refreshing end to the meal – as well as a clean finish on the palate.

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stone street scandanavian

Who even knew there was a Stone Street down in the Financial District? I sure didn’t. In fact, the short thoroughfare connecting Pearl and William Streets is the oldest cobblestone paved street in New York City. It’s also home to a good dozen or so bars and restaurants that spill out onto the cobbles, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a European biergarten. Smorgas Chef, an unassuming Scandinavian restaurant, is one of them. Tucked into a table in the window with a friend in the from the UK I had the odd sensation that it was I visiting him – and not the other way around. Glasses of caraway and anise flavored aquavit warmed our cockles. Yet it was the food that possessed all the comfort of a raging fireplace and fuzzy slippers on a snowy night: Icelandic cod in a potato crust on a bed of forest mushrooms, Swedish meatballs and lingonberries with chive mashed potatoes, gravlaks croquettes of house-cured salmon and horseradish creme fraiche. Bundled up against the winter winds, I anticipate returning to Stone Street again and again.

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