Thursday, May 23, 2013

San Francisco and Bay Area Restaurant Round-up

San Francisco is a Mecca for food and wine lovers and the ones I selected were great destinations. I paired each entrée with some very good wines that are described herein. Some of these are old favorites; others are new favorites in a week of dining successes. My wife, Barbara, and I arrived late Monday morning and traveled by taxi to Powell Place atop Nob Hill and then back across the bay by BART to Oakland for dinner with our friend Enid.

Toast Oakland 5900 College Ave, Oakland: 510-658-5900
This is a very trendy area of Oakland near Berkley. To survive here a restaurant has to know its audience. That means dining al fresco will generate business and so will an eclectic menu. Good wine for sophisticates is also a good idea as Napa is just up the road. My chicken breast with wild mushrooms, fennel and quinoa went perfectly with the 2011 Finca Las Nubes Torrontés from Argentina. This was a new Torrontés for me and one of the better whites to come out of Argentina.

This is a highly rated Torrontés with an 89 to 91 point score. Jose Luis Mounier is a reputed master of this grape and the wine shows a fine hand crafted it. The wine is elegant with good balance, showing flowery aromas and flavors of jasmine and orange blossom, with wonderful minerality and juicy acidity. This is a food-friendly or just-drinking-alone wine that will pair with many foods including Asian cuisine.

Sake Tasting: Maru-Sushi, Hana Zen, Sanraku
No trip to Baghdad by the Bay is complete without a sake sampling session. I found a couple of new favorites at three of my go-to Japanese restaurants. Maru Sushi is a long time favorite two blocks down from our timeshare on Powell. Good sushi and a good selection of sake keep us coming back. I ordered a small bottle (300ml) of Ozeki Karatamba Sake. Karatamba means dry wave and this is fine dry sake of medium body with clean, smooth flavors. The rice is milled to 70% and the subtle rice flavors permit pairing with a wide range of Asian fare.

The following day we met friends at Hana Zen, my favorite Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. Nestled in a corner of the Hotel Nikko, Hana Zen has great sushi and even better yakitori, a Japanese cooking method where meats and vegetables are skewered and grilled. Technically the term is Kushiyaki as yakitori means only chicken meat, but the terms are used interchangeable; less to remember that way. I again went with the Karatamba, one because I liked it so much, two because it was well-priced, and three because it was fun to say; Kara-tamba!

Sanraku Japanese restaurant is in the Metreon complex near Moscone Center. We went to see the movie 42, which was outstanding, with our friends Ken and Debbie McKenzie. The food again is excellent and the outdoor seating on a pleasant May day in San Francisco is not to be missed. Summer in the city is a different experience as the central valley heat mixes with the Pacific coastal breezes and the fog obliterates the sun. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” was alluded to Mark Twain, but was his most famous non-quote. Twain actually complained a lot about Paris weather, but not so much about San Francisco.

But I digress. I had the sake sampler along with a salad, gyoza and the oyster special. The Junmai Otokoyama (“Man’s Mountain”) and Ginjo Kikusui (“Chrysanthemum Water”) were my favorites. The Kikusui held notes of a distant sea breeze and was one of the most delicate sakes I’ve tried. I might mention here that all these cold sakes are 15% to 15.5%. Some climb up to 16.5%, so be aware while you are enjoying these elegant sakes you can also get hammered if you don’t watch it. The relatively coarse hot sakes will do the trick even faster, but it would be a crime to heat premium sake.

Koh Samui and the Monkey Thai restaurant: 415 Brannan St., San Francisco, CA 94107 (415) 369-0007
If you came here from my newsletter, it was probably to check out this item. And yes there is a monkey, but I’m not cleared to discuss it. Mary Ellen and Michael joined us here Friday. They came in on Caltrans, which all of us Bay-area denizens use rather than driving into the city, and worse, trying to find a parking spot. The train terminates near AT&T Park, where thousands of Giant’s fans are disgorged to find their way to the ballpark or populate the local bars.

As it happens some of them made it to Koh Samui so we had to wait a long time to get our cocktails. I had the Cilantro Margarita, which was so good I’m going to make them for my local friends.  The scallop satay was criminally good and the Madame Sea Bass had just about the best green curry I’ve tasted to go with the bass. I originally ordered the Eroica Riesling, a joint effort by Dr. Loosen of Germany and Chateau Ste. Michele one of the best Riesling houses in the country.

They were out! But disappointment turned to astonishment when I tasted the 2010 Salomon Undhof Kögl Riesling the waitress recommended. Riesling wines typically go with Asian cuisine, which is why I stuck with this grape, but this wine was made for Thai cuisine. Kudos to Koh Samui for having two great Riesling wines on the menu. Heck they may have even more, but I’d choose this wine every time given the option. 

If you noticed the glass stopper next to the glass, I’ve been seeing more of these fasteners of late. It has a rubber seal over the glass and makes a great backup stopper. I recycled mine to use at home; a bonus from Salomon. 

The service is uneven but it was Friday night and a Giant’s home stand against the Atlanta Braves as well. (The Giants took 3 out of four games.) Still with our good friends the time went by all too fast.