CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Best Five Things About My Christmas Vacation

1. Finding this.

2. Realizing that Costco now has it's OWN brand of honest-to-Bacchus Champagne for $20. And it doesn't suck.

3. Eating here. And here. And here. More to come on that.

4. The can of Sofia found in my stocking, and drunk on Christmas morning. Of course, I put it there.

5. Seeing that both Pim and Catherine had nominated me for this.

Santa was way too good to me this year. I did make him some pretty bitchin' cookies, though.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art"
-- La Rochefoucauld

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Back In the Saddle

I am so fucking happy to be home.

That said, I had a lovely time in the middle of nowhere and I couldn't be happier to report that the Twin Cities get yummier and yummier every time I visit.

But it's still nowhere near as bitchin' as my SF.

More to come...


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Wool Socks Are Packed

And so I'm off. I won't be back for what seems like an eternity, but really, it's only the 29th. I'll try to post while I'm away, but it's pretty unlikely considering the remoteness of our holiday celebration. Perhaps once we get down to Minneapolis...

I hope all you sexy bitches have a fabulous Christmas or Chanukah or whatever, filled with loved ones and, of course, lots of food.

And please come visit me when I get back...


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

I Want Candy (Ame -- San Francisco, CA)

So from what I could find, Ame means "candy" or "rain" in Japanese. Based on my experiences at the lovely Ame, with it's jewel like sashimi presentations, I thought candy was the more appropriate moniker.

Ame is the new brainchild of Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, the folks behind the supremely delicious Terra in Napa.

Ame is located in the appropriately hip St. Regis hotel. Normally, the atmosphere would be way too much of a scene for me, but since the food is so delicious, I have been twice now in about as many weeks. The space is ultra trendy and chic and all those other things that usually make me throw up in my mouth a little bit. But as I said, it's all good. And by that, I mean everything I've eaten on the menu.

My first visit was on the evening of Jon's company Christmas party, when we dined with Brian, one of his co-workers and Brian's super rad partner, Doug. We were all dressed up and shit and it turned out to be a good thing (more on that later). We sat at an actual table. The second time was with our partners in crime, sitting at the bar before trying to catch a movie.

Let me start with service, as it's the least consistent thing about Ame. The hosts/hostesses couldn't be nicer. On both visits, they were super awesome and get an A+ all the way. The servers are a little less so.

Our first server took forever to attend to us. Drink orders, food orders, etc...everything took way too long. Now, he had a semi-good reason (are you curious yet?), but not good enough to neglect us as he did. He was also just a total bitch. By the end of the meal, he had warmed up to us, but it was way too much fucking work.

The server we had at the bar, was also a bitch, but he warmed up a lot faster. I think he got a kick out of our foursome, and not only expedited our order so we could make it to our movie, but brought us an extra churro since the order comes with three and there were four of us. We didn't even request it, nor did he charge us. So it all worked out there, too. But would it really kill them to be nice off the bat?

This is especially surprising considering what a sweet, sweet man Chef Sone is. He was in the dining room on our first visit and we grabbed him to thank him. He couldn't have been more adorable and gracious. He fucking rocks.

A word about the prices: these are Boulevard prices we're dealing with here. I didn't pay much attention the first time as it was a fancy night out, but the second time it struck me as steep. Not that the food isn't great, but it's difficult to pay $14/$15 for sashimi presentations, no matter how spectacular they are (and they are). But I bet I'll be back before you know it, despite the prices because it's so bitchin'.

And now here's why:

I'll start with the sashimi bar items. Between the two visits, someone we know has eaten almost every item in this category. First, the "Tuna Five": Tataki, Zuke, Tartare, Bottarga and Mojama. Brian had this and really dug most of it. The Mojama was a bit too out there, but the rest was delicious, with the Tartare being the standout. Fine little chunks of marinated tuna that melt in your mouth. Outstanding.

We've had the "Poke" twice now. It's a combination of chopped fish (on one visit, it was ahi, fluke and hamachi) wrapped in rice and lightly fried nori. It comes with a sauce flavored with shiso. This may be my favorite thing on the whole menu. It is truly spectacular.

The "Crudo," however, can give that poke a run for it's money. Thinly sliced fish with Meyer lemon, sea salt and olive oil, it is the most voluptuous dish $16.50 can buy. On our first visit it was tombo (my absolute fave), on the second I think it was snapper, although I'm not sure. Something white and good.

Jon loves the “Ceviche” with Bird’s Eye Chili, Water Melon Radish and Yuzu. Again, the fish changes. Both times we've had it, though, I think it's been fluke. And it's been good. I find it to be less powerful than the others, but Jon digs it.

Fatemeh dug into “Lissa’s Staff Meal” Cuttlefish Noodles Tossed with Sea Urchin, Quail Eggs, Wasabi and Soy Sauce. It looked fantastic, but I never dipped in my chopsticks. Jon couldn't keep his out of it. For my part, I was macking on her Burrata with Artichokes, Castel Franco and Garum. God, I fucking love Burrata. Whoever came up with the idea to wrap mozzarella around it's own curd should be knighted. I expect to see it at Delfina and A16, but I didn't expect it at Ame. And they really did it justice.

We got entrees the first time we went and Jon's was Sone's very famous Sake Marinated Black Cod with Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth. This is an incredible dish. Just awesome. I wouldn't choose that over what I got, though, which was the Grilled Hokkaido Scallops, Cuttlefish and Lobster Tail with Lemon Garlic Parsley Butter. Just absolutely unbelievable. If you've never had Hokkaido scallops, get yourself some now. Sweet, succulent and sexy as hell. This dish was a show stopper.

Colin's had the "Crabonara," Brian the Beef Cheeks and Doug the pork. I heard no complaints.

The wine and cocktail lists are pretty decent. The Pomegranate Ginger cosmopolitan is a winner, although the Red Snapper (their version of a Bloody Mary) is not. Fatemeh had a lovely Fouet Cremant, and I a very nice J. Leitz Reisling. Jon and I also had a bottle of Robert Sinskey Abraxas despite having bottles at home (we're members of their wine club) because it's just so freakin' good. And it's a good value, which rocks my world, because I have a hard time justifying buying very expensive wines in restaurants. It's just the principle of the whole thing.

And now I'll give you some sugar. The two standout desserts would have to be the aforementioned churros and hot chocolate, as well as the frozen yogurt souffle with mango sauce. But share them, because the dessert portions are a good size and you don't want to puke on the table. You laugh, but my husband has done it before (if you don't hear from me for awhile, it's because he killed me for telling you that).

And now for the moment you've been waiting for...

On our first visit, we were very distracted, and as I mentioned, so was the server, because at the communal table in the corner was Ted Allen.

Now the totally fucked up thing is that despite having a season pass to Queer Eye, Jon and I haven't watched an episode in forever. But I came home that day and Jon paused the Tivo (a.k.a. THE GREATEST THING EVER INVENTED. Seriously, if you don't have one, you should get one RIGHT NOW. They're like $50 during the holidays...) to say hello. I immediately started accusing him of watching porn, but it was simply the Queer Eye episode where they makeover a nudist.

So when Ted got up to leave, I, of course, said "Ted!" And I'm told what followed was the most graceful celebrity interaction to ever take place. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back. It went a little like this:

ME: I'm so sorry to bother you, but we just wanted to tell you we are big fans.

TED: Oh, thank you so much.

JON: Did you enjoy your meal?

TED: It was fantastic -- how about you?

ME: Oh yes. We were so happy to see you because we were just watching an episode at home.

TED: Oh, good, keep watching -- the new season starts on Tuesday.

ME: We will. It was the nudist episode.

TED: (touching me on the arm!) Oh, I love that episode!

ME: Well, we just wanted to say we're fans -- enjoy your night.

TED: Thank you so much -- enjoy your meal!

He seemed way more relaxed, and, well, cool than he does on the show. So that was our little celeb sighting.

So Ame has been good to us, for the most part. Super food, brushes with greatness and the most charming owner you ever did see. Now if only they could do something about those bitchy servers...


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Sunday, December 18, 2005


In a few short days, I am off to Minnesota. As you might recall, Jon and I spend every Christmas in the coldest fucking place on earth. I'm a really good daughter-in-law.

But I need your help. Because fuck me if I have any idea where to eat there this year. I usually visit epicurious for a little advice, but they just decided to leave the twin cities out in their reviews this year. Not a good sign, my friends, not a good sign.

Any and all advice is welcome. And anyone that wants to pack for me is welcome, too.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Friday, December 16, 2005

Welcome to the Monkeyhouse

My poor, poor husband.

Yesterday sucked balls. Just way, way, too long. Starting work at 8 a.m. and finishing at 9 p.m. just blows. Hard.

Late last night in the bar section at Zuni, there was a party goin' on. And by that I mean that us and the tables around us were having a yee haw inducing time.

After one table didn't finish some of their fries, a testosterone table next to us (4 men, 2 chickens and some red wine) berated them. I chimed in wholeheartedly. I think I even accused them of breaking one of the Commandments.

That same underachieving table sat considering dessert. They read of the list of available items that evening (we had not yet seen the menu) and they got to my baby girl: The Caramel Pot de Creme.

And so I did what any good restaurant whore would do. I shouted "YOU HAVE TO GET THAT." Jon slid under the table.

No, I was not drunk.

They did get it (2 actually), making me order it for them because they couldn't pronounce it.

In my defense, I said I'd pay for their dessert if they didn't like it.

I'm guessing the money would be better spent on therapy for Jon, before he becomes too afraid to take me out in public.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fuck New York

What the hell have they got that we haven't? Let's see, shall we?

  • Snow
  • A lack of eye contact
  • An excess of black clothing
And now, my friends, they will have one more thing:

Daniel Humm.

Damn, those bitches are spoiled enough already. Why do they have to take my sunshine away?

I am a bitter, bitter woman.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Do This Now

Please do this. Now.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

House of Worship (The French Laundry -- Yountville, CA)

***Addendum: For my thoughts on that famous reservation policy, see the comments.***

My apologies -- I posted this on Wed. night but since I *started* it on November 12th (I know, I know) and forgot to change the date, it appeared in the Nov. section. I'm just now moving it to it's rightful place. Sorry.

Here she is. I can't promise it was worth waiting for, but how could it ever be, right?

The title refers to a little experience I had on my most recent visit to The French Laundry. It was my third, and this time I was there with Jon and my Uncle G and Aunt L., who were in town for some biz. Uncle G. is my hero -- he's been there at the most critical times in my life -- and I don't get to see them that much so the time is always precious when I do. Aunt L. had always wanted to go to TFL, so we made a ressie and surprised her. When we walked by the sign and I pointed and said "We're going here," the look on her face was so priceless that the meal almost couldn't compare. Almost.

BUT. The title experience refers to about midway through the meal when I was getting ready to open my second stomach and needed a breath of fresh air. I stepped out onto the balcony (we were on the 2nd floor), looked across to their vegetable garden, looked down at the sitting garden, took a deep breath of the crisp fall air and then thought about how freakin' lucky I am, for so many reasons. It was the deepest, most thoughtful prayer I've taken part in in a good long while.

And that's the thing about TFL. It just makes me feel so deeply. Something about the whole experience puts me in a giddy, vulnerable place. Most of it's the food, some of it's the atmosphere and the service and a piece of it is the realization that I'm doing something special, that many want to do, but few have the PRIVILEGE to do.

I've now had that privilege three times. The first was December 26th, 2002 with K&B (Jon and I did this in lieu of any Christmas or birthday gifts that year) . The second was our fourth wedding anniversary on August 11, 2004 and the third was with Uncle G. and Aunt L. on November 6th, 2005.

We were there both before and after Per Se opened. I personally, do not think the quality has slipped since. Some disagree. I think the problem that we're seeing with TFL now is that it's no longer the "only." Other people have seriously upped their game. So it feels like "Gee, for almost half the price I can eat at Manresa." Or, "I can do the truffle menu at Campton Place and get a $20 glass of wine for that price." But I am still a champion of TFL, because there are things that make it like no other. Here are those things:

  • On my first visit, Jon paid the ass rape fee for the foie gras and got a lovely preparation, complete with the most beautiful brioche toast I've ever seen. I begged him for some toast, he wasn't giving it up. What seemed like two seconds later, another plate of brioche appeared at *my* side, with our dear server intoning "I had the kitchen fire some toast for the lady." Fucking priceless.
  • Those ubiquitous cornets. I feel like such a kid whenever they bring them. And I don't even love salmon all that much. But I gobble it down like the animal I am whenever it comes on it's beautiful little stand. The gougeres don't suck either.
  • Thomas Keller's generosity. I mean, the caviar for fuck's sake. It's a ridiculous amount that he slaps onto whatever dish he fancies that evening. On two of my visits, it was the exquisite Oysters and Pearls, still quite possible the sexiest dish I've ever tasted. Those of you who aren't familiar should close your eyes now because once you know what it is, it will haunt you until you have some. This butter poached oyster in a sabayon-tapioca puddle with a huge ass lump of caviar on top is to die for. The cauliflower panna cotta with oyster glaze and osetra that I had on this last visit wasn't too shabby either.
  • Or how about when K, the pickiest eater I know, fiddled around the menu and finally determined that what she wanted most was caviar and blini. Fine, for a $40 supplement. But when it was discovered that for the first time EVER, TFL had run out of lobsters, they just threw in that caviar for free.
  • On that first visit, the table before us wouldn't leave, so we were seated late. And treated to a myriad of extra delights because of it. When our truffle custards arrived in perfect little eggshells, mine had mushroom stock, instead of the veal stock that everyone else got, since I had subbed something else in for the beef dish. Is that fucking great service or what? The custard, enjoyed again on this last visit, may be my favorite TFL item, next to Oysters and Pearls.
  • A cheese presentation that focuses and excites. Such as the truffled, whipped Brie de Nangis that I enjoyed on my first visit, or the Pleasant Ridge Reserve I had on this last one. Nothing is more beautiful than those cheese presentations.
  • The dessert parade. First comes sorbet. On our 2nd visit, I just about started kissing the feet of our server due to the extraordinary passionfruit sorbet. Then comes the major player, although after discovering it was our 3rd visit this past time, we got 2 majors. First was the ever famous (but never yet tasted by us) "Coffee and Doughnuts." I could die. Really, I could. For the 2nd major, the carrot cake and the "Snicker's bar" (chocolate financier, caramel ice cream and Spanish peanut crunch) didn't suck either. Then come the mignardaise -- little pots de somethings. Ladies usually get a mini creme brulee of sorts, while the gents get a "scented" panna cotta. When we lost our TFL virginity, it was the day after Christmas and they were scented with egg nog. TOO. FUCKING.RAD. And then come the petit fours, which used to be mini treats (boxed for us the first time due to our full bellies. And the fact that it was 2:00 a.m.), but now also include macarons in addition to the jellies and sandwich cookies and such. AND now get a box of chocolates to take home. Pure heaven.
  • The clothespin that holds your napkin and the laundry ticket that is your bill. Cute without being stupid.
  • The impeccable seafood. Melt in your mouth Snapper. Cod with the most perfect white beans you've ever set eyes on. Lobsters I could eat 100 of. Poached in butter. Sometimes in a little ravioli. Sometimes with a paper thin sheet of potato balanced on top. Always good.
  • The vegetable menu. Vegetarians usually get shit. I've subbed a few things in from the veggie menu before and the Matsutake mushroom tart is still one of the best things I've ever eaten in my life.
  • Just the entire fact that you *CAN* sub things in from the other menus. Or they'll just make you a whole new thing that's not on ANY menu. This last time, I was going to sub in a veggie for the beef again. After quizzing me on my likes and dislikes, the server ran to the kitchen and returned with the holy fucking grail: "We'd like to make you some pork belly." THAT'S what I'm talking about bitches!
  • The bread. Jesus Hebrew Christ, the bread. Little epi de ble's and ciabatta and walnut bread and all kinds of doughy goodness. With Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. butter AND Straus butter. Mmmmm...butter.
  • The wine list. You can get a bottle of wine for $25 or $2500. And it's all good (well, I don't actually know about the $2500, because I'd never pay that much for wine, but you get the point).
  • I believe it's implied in the other reasons, but the service. Yes, it can be a little on the "reserved" side until you let them know you are there to have fun. Or that it's your 3rd visit. Or that you want some toast.
  • The feelings it evokes. On every visit, I've uttered the phrase "This dish reminds me of..." And by that I mean it's an experience I'm envisioning as opposed to another food item.
  • The fact that no matter what, I always leave wanting to return, with a full belly and a full heart.

So is it the best? You could argue that all day. I think so, but not everyone agrees. And that's OK. Is it overpriced? Maybe. But Mr. Keller doesn't exactly love fame, and I think this price may be his version of a deterrent. In any case, I'd still save up my pennies and go back. Is it going downhill? Nah. I think it just keeps getting better and better. I really, really do.

So there you have it. I could dissect each dish point by point but what fun would that be? I'd rather tell you how it makes me feel. And as you can tell, it makes me feel happy, lucky and full.

And, Bacchus willing, I WILL be going back.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Monday, December 05, 2005

Do You Hate Me?

I swear to James Beard that the next restaurant review that appears here WILL be The French Laundry. I figure there is no other way I can show my face around here. Unfortunately, these days, I seem to be sorely lacking in time.

This hit me like your momma's pimp when I realized that I hadn't even done a review of the insanely delicious 'wichcraft after my recent jaunt to Vegas. There is only one word to describe me when all this is considered and that is LAME.

I hope to return to our regularly scheduled programming soon. Especially since I have a trip to the Dining Room planned for Thursday and I'll fucking eviscerate myself if I get any more behind than I already am.

Love you. Mean it.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld