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

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Of Corse (Aito Restaurant -- Moorea, French Polynesia)

Corse is the French name for the island of Corsica, which is where the owner/host/runner of Aito Restaurant, Jean-Baptiste, hails from.

Jean-Baptiste is worth the visit alone. The food doesn't suck either (but I'll only recommend it with some serious disclaimers, as you'll see later). J-B, however, is one of those dudes with a crazy story and an even crazier way of doing business. He and his wife, Vanina, (who just married after being together for more than 11 years) are at the helm of Aito.

We went to Aito twice -- once on our first full day in Moorea, and then again on our last night there as it was the best place we found.

On the first visit, we went for lunch. We had heard that it had the best tuna tartare on the island, so we ordered that, along with a variation on the specialty of French Polynesia, which is called poisson cru. Poisson cru is raw fish marinated in coconut milk, but the dish we settled on was actually -- wait for it -- RAW RIVER PRAWNS marinated in coconut milk.

Now raw river prawns are not something I'm inclined to eat under the best of sanitary circumstances. In this case, I was eating them in a restaurant with trees going through it, in a place with no health code guidelines and in a dining room with zero methods for cooling the room, despite the 90+ degree heat.

Aito is on the water, and is a nice place to relax while you eat. Good thing, too, because if there is one thing about J-B, it's that the dude moves slow. Jon and I decided he reminded us of one of the Triplets of Belleville, shuffling around and mumbling in French. He also has a few phrases he likes to say on each visit (we thought about recording them and just leaving them on a loop). Some of these things are: "First I bring you the appetizer, then you order drinks" and "Yes, you should have that one." Still, you can't fault a guy that drives around the island every morning picking up his fish from different fisherman, and other foodstuffs from other folks. And did I mention he makes his own pepper marmalade?

He starts by bringing you some bread from a baguette (which is pretty good on FP -- it's not crusty enough due to the humidity, but it wasn't terrible either) and his pimon pepper marmalade for spreading on the bread with some butter. J-B makes this himself every morning, and it's pretty bitchin'. It's spicy and sweet at the same time, and is a nice way to mind fuck yourself by making your mouth hotter than your body temperature.

The tuna tartare comes with french fries (!). The portion of tartare is HUGE and looks pretty much like a pile of dog vomit. It's pretty tasty, though, so just close your eyes. And, for some reason, all of the french fries in FP completely rock the house. Those froggies taught them right. Seriously, I had not a bad potato on the entire trip (except the breakfast potatoes at our 2nd hotel).

Now the crevettes cru, those were pretty much completely and totally fantastic. Once we could get past the fact that we would probably die of botulism, we thoroughly enjoyed them. Jon washed his down with the local beer, Hinano, which itself is pretty darn good. In fact, it's so good that Range has it on their drink menu.

We finished off the meal with locally made sorbets (passion fruit and coconut) that were so out of this world good that I started to tear up when they told us they didn't have any on our return visit.

A word: You just read how much we ate. Not much right? Wanna venture a guess for how long we were there? Try two and a half hours. A little too leisurely for my taste, but what do I know? Plus, watching J-B do his shuffle was so fucking hilarious, that we were OK sucking it up.

On our second visit, we read J-B's story -- about how he came from Corsica, started many business' and fucked many women. It was a great story, especially when we read that when asked if he would take Vanina as his wife, he said "I don't have a choice." Legend tells that he used to drink 10 Scotch and cokes a day. That's a lot of booze, no?

This time, we were in da house for dinner, and I picked out a nice bottle of Muscadet to go with our meal. It passed muster very well (the French put limits on what they can charge for beverages so that helps). We then ordered straight up poisson cru (the best we had on the whole trip), a crab with garlic and cognac for Jon and Pacific spiny lobster roasted for me. My lobster was excellent. The crab was a local crab, and we decided we like the Dungeness here in SF better, despite the fact that it was tasty enough.

No sorbet for us that night, so we decided to go with his special crepe. Holy fuckballs this thing looked something like the exploding birthday sundae you'd get at some processed food emporium (such as Chilis or Applebees). The best part, though, is that J-B paraded it around the dining room, showing it to the other customers with the pride of a new papa. Once it finally arrived at us, we noticed it had vanilla ice cream (the Tahitians are all about the vanilla), taro ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I could've passed on the whole deal, but Jon had no problem covering that for me.

We left and decided to walk back to our hotel rather than ask for a ride (most of the restaurants there do pick up/drop off service). Of course, I forgot that there were no street lamps and we walked 3/4 of a mile in pitch blackness with all of the rabid dogs barking at us the whole way (side note: every dog in FP looks the same -- like a mangy, diseased zombie dog. I started just shouting "there's that same doggie!" every time we saw one. See photo below).
Once home, content and full, we drifted off into peaceful slumber thinking of what a hilariously fun time it had been meeting J-B.

Of course, it doesn't end there -- Oh no! That peaceful slumber lasted about an hour before I awoke to the sounds of Jon revisiting his meal. This continued for most of the night, in more ways than one let me add, to the point where I was so repulsed by the sounds and smells that I, myself, needed to get in on the puke-fest (hungry yet?). In any case, we think it may have been the crab that fucked Jon over, as it was the only thing he ate a lot of that I didn't. Needless to say, we were wallowing in the irony of the whole thing since it was the crab, and not the raw river prawns that caused the food poisoning situation.

Would I go back despite all that? Probably. Because the fact of the matter is that it was still the best food we had on Moorea. And plus, it goes with the territory, right?


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

P.S. Tomorrow I head to Washington DC with a bunch of 8th graders. Wish me luck. There will be no good eating for me, at least until Friday, when I return. It's OK, though, because Saturday, I head to Chicago for an all out orgy. In any case, posting may get light again, but I'll make it up to you. You know I will.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Amen, Sister

It is rare that I'm willing to hand my limelight over to another, being the attention hog that I am. However, while catching up on my reading post-vacation, I noticed that Shuna has written what I think is perhaps the best food related post written this year. I couldn't agree with her more.

Do yourselves a favor and go read it.


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

Saturday, April 22, 2006

There's No Place Like Home

I'm back.

French Polynesia is everything they say it is -- completely gorgeous and with lagoons that have colors you can't even imagine. I have never gone on a vacation where I have managed to relax so much. It was heaven on Earth. Plus, I fed some sharks and had a sting ray climb up all in my face and stuff, so that was pretty rad.

That said, their food sucks balls. With the notable exception of a dish called poisson cru (raw fish marinated in coconut milk) and the french fries. Seriously -- I did not have a bad french fry the entire time (must be the French influence). Other than that, most of our meals ranged from bad to worse (and the service from worse to atrocious), with a lovely bit of food poisoning thrown in for Jon just for kicks (he was fine, and it only lasted a night), and nice little dead cricket in the lettuce thrown in for me. To add insult to injury, that dead cricket cost more than the antibiotics one would need if one were to actually ingest the little fucker.

We got off the plane, showered, and made a beeline for Delfina. We actually ordered three pastas for the two of us. I could only manage one -- Jon took in the other two on his own. Guess he's making up for lost food so to speak.

And while I will sorely pine for my lovely little bungalows with direct access to the ocean and the fishies and such, I am happy to return to my own city, if only for the dim sum, burritos, and general culinary superiority.

I'll try to recount some of our more colorful dining experiences in the coming days/weeks. For now, I'm on deadline for Mesh until Tuesday (which I found out today and is just super sucktastic), and probably won't get a review up until after I turn in my article.

Love you. Mean it.


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

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rain, Rain, I'm Going Away

OK, kids, I'm off to paradise. Time to escape this fucking rain, and the piles of work Jon and I have been facing for what seems like forever.

I'll be back at the end of next week. I hope you'll still be here, too.

Eat some tasties for me while I'm gone.


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

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Restaurant Whore Porn

Sometimes I sit at the computer with a stack of food magazines. I look through the magazines for what restaurants they are currently recommending and then I go to the restaurant websites so I can look at their menus and drool.

I also go to food blogs from other cities and find more restaurants through them. Then I go to more websites. And drool some more.

Then I obsess about how I can possibly visit all of these restaurants at some point. Soon. And I start sweet talking Jon to see when he can next get time off ("C'mon, honey, if we go to NY, you can work in the office there and we can see your parents...").

And then I end up doing crazy shit I never would have considered doing prior to my culinary awakening, such as flying to Chicago for 30 hours simply for a meal, or planning an entire trip to Europe around one restaurant.

The irony here? Tomorrow I leave for a vacation to a place that is not known for it's food.


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

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Kiss Me Plate (Kiss -- San Francisco, CA)

First things first: if you are the first person to correctly guess what the title of this post references, you get lunch on me (my dime, not my body. And I get to choose where). This is a two-parter as the thing I'm referencing actually references something else as well. Confused yet?

OK, on to the restaurant. Jon and I dig us some sushi. In fact, my darling husband gets a jones for the stuff that he won't let go until someone has used a forklift to shovel mass quantities of raw fish directly into his mouth. Now last week, this jones was in full effect. He was talking about sushi all week long (never mind the fact that he has access to sushi at work -- don't get me started on that one).

The thing about us, though, is that if we are not planning dinner with friends or dignitaries, we do not generally make reservations for Friday nights. It's just way too much planning for us to deal with during the week. Plus, everyone is out on Friday nights so when we're on our own, we usually go somewhere that they know us or we order in or we (gasp!) cook. So when Friday came, and Jon proclaimed that this was the night he wanted to try Kiss, I laughed. And then I laughed some more.

You see, the shrine known as Kiss is an itsy bitsy sushi restaurant on the edge of Japantown. We had never been, but had heard that getting into the twelve seat spot was harder than Ron Jeremy. In fact, we had tried some last minute calling during the previous week and were told there was no room. We vowed to plan ahead for our visit to Kiss.

Except then here we were, on a Friday night at 7:30, picking up the phone and asking if they could squeeze us in. We were told there was no room. But on this night, Jon felt that "no" really meant "yes." (Now that I think about it, that kind of makes him sound like a restaurant rapist). He rationalized that we could drive there, assess the situation, and then if there was no hope for us, we could go somewhere else in Japantown. I agreed, albeit begrudgingly, knowing he was setting himself up for disappointment and therefore, setting myself up for placating a very hungry, very crabby spouse.

We walked into Kiss and saw eight people. Two seats at the bar were vacant, as was a two top table in the corner. The eight people in the restaurant were silently watching what our next move would be. We asked the very nice server if there was any room. After conversing with Naka-san, the chef, they both agreed that the empty table was now ours. It appeared there had been a no-show. Thank you, no-show. We felt like assholes -- we really should have made a reservation -- but we were glad we could fill in. And we are now putting Kiss on speed dial.

Jon was ecstatic over the fact that they could accomodate us and he made it known to the whole restaurant. Not difficult as it is an intimate little room that feels more like the chef's own private dining room. It is amazing what they do with that pristine little space. From the immaculate linens to the sake bottles stacked on a tucked away ledge to the gorgeous blossoms in tall vases in both the main dining area AND the bathroom, Kiss could not be more charming.

On our first visit, we decided to stick with mostly sushi and sashimi, forgoing the Omakase dinner for another visit. And, oh, my bitches, there will be another visit.

Because what was presented to us was quite possible the most exquisite fish I've ever seen. Jon has insisted over and over again that it was the best sushi he's had in his life. And he eats a fuckload of sushi.

We both had soup. Manila clams in soybean broth for me, mushrooms in soybean broth for Jon. In. Cred. Ible.

And then came our fish. First the sashimi. Beautifully presented on a long thin tray with fresh wasabi and a single shiso leaf. Baby striped bass, ama-ebi, squid, giant clam, hamachi, o-toro that was so beautiful that it looked like Kobe beef, and snapper. Jon normally won't touch ama-ebi with a ten foot pole. He loved it so much that despite the fact that we also got it with our sushi plate following the sashimi, he ordered more. Each piece of fish was better than the previous perfectly sliced morsel. We were already planning which additional pieces to order, before we even saw the sushi.

And what sushi it was. Each immaculate piece of nigiri looked like a precious gem and melted in our mouths. This time it was giant clam and baby clam, tuna marinated in soy sauce (Oh. My. God. This was insanely good. Like insane-in-the-membrane good), more ama-ebi, salmon (sake), tamago, more squid, more yellowtail, halibut and uni. Jon also doesn't like uni. Personally, I think uni tastes like feet, but I'll eat it if it's put in front of me. Jon ate the uni at Kiss and promptly ordered more, along with the ama-ebi, more bass for me, more yellowtail for both of us, more o-toro because it fucking rocked our world (holy shit this was good) and some hotate (scallop). The only thing I wouldn't do again would be the hotate as we like ours all virgin and soft and Naka-san's prep. method includes a marinating process that gives the scallop a firm, almost crunchy texture. It was excellent, but not our preference.

And to top it all off, Naka-san and the server (who I think must be his wife) are the sweetest people you've ever seen. They are quietly elegant and unassuming. We were particularly charmed when Naka-san instructed that one should not eat too much uni, as it is important to save some for the ocean itself. These card carrying members of the Monterey Bay Aquarium couldn't agree more. I had to forcefully restrain myself from throwing my arms around them and showering them with kisses of their own. They were delightful.

After we had had our fill of the perfect fish, we stepped out into the rainy San Francisco night, not caring that we were getting wet, or that it was cold. In fact the only thing we felt as we left Kiss that night was lucky that we live somewhere that has a place as special as Kiss.

Kiss me, baby.


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

Monday, April 10, 2006

Love Shack (Old Port Lobster Shack -- Redwood City, CA)

Not long after I started this blog, I lamented the fact that while we have the best food in the country here in the Bay Area, there are some things we are sorely lacking. Now I'm not one of those east coasters that is yearning to get back to a "real" city, or who thinks that if I can get into a restaurant then it's not worth going to. But I do think there are some things they do better on the east coast. Pizza. Bagels. Lobster.

Now I've found some solace with the pizza and the bagels. Arinell and Miller's both do reasonable approximations of my beloved eastern carb based staples. But the lobster is something I've been missing.

I've said it before: yes, we can get lobster. Poached in butter. Or wok fried. Which are both great and all, but sometimes I just want my lobster steamed with some drawn butter and lemon. Or in a lobster roll. But all I could seem to find was lobster that may have been good, but was also expensive and dressed up like a whore during the the Republican National Convention.

Lobster has been my favorite food since I first tried it at the age of twelve. I spent most summers at sleep-away camp in Maine, and my first lobster experience was when we stopped for dinner on the drive home one year. Upon my first taste of the sweet, buttery, firm flesh, I was hooked. To this day, when I visit my hometown of Boston, my primary goal is to get myself some of that delicious overgrown cockroach presented without all the fuss.

I first got wind of Old Port Lobster Shack when my friends, P&D, asked us if we'd been. They claimed they'd heard it was real New England style seafood. I was nothing if not skeptical.

Then it was mentioned to me again, by Culinary Dad Guy when he snuck in on the conversation that Cat and I were having at Bittersweet. He mentioned it was getting a lot of buzz on Chowhound (which I never read because, well, the site is crazy shitty).

I brought up the idea of going. Jon, too, was skeptical. We'd been burned too many times by false claims of authenticity. Still, we figured we didn't have much to lose. So on a shopping expedition to the South Bay, we decided to hit up OPLS.

It's not an easy place to find. It's tucked back in a strip mall on Veteran's Blvd. next to a Baker's Square (side note: back in college when Jon lived here for a summer, he took me to breakfast at a Baker's Square on the first morning of my visit. Ahh, how times have changed). Once you enter, you are in a sort of Disney version of a New England pier. It's cute because they are damn good at what they do, otherwise it would border on annoyingly kitschy.

We ordered as follows: Lobster dinner for Jon, naked lobster roll for me. Beer for Jon, lemonade for me until I learned it wasn't fresh lemonade but rather, Minute-Maid lemon drink from the fountain. I went with a Coke instead. If I could offer one piece of advice to the OPLS folks, start making yourselves some real lemonade.

Jon's lobster dinner came with the appropriate drawn butter and lemon, as well as roasted potatoes and asparagus. My naked roll was naked because it had no mayo, or "dressing", as their Maine lobster roll does. The naked roll comes piled with gorgeous lobster meat and also comes with drawn butter and lemon as well as homemade potato chips and cole slaw. My roll was on bread baked just for OPLS in special pans. Lesson: Lobster rolls are traditionally on bread that resembles a hot dog bun, except there is crust only on the top (as opposed to all around). OPLS kept it real.

And as for taste? Holy fuck. Jon took one bite of his lobster and rolled his eyes with delight. I think he even teared up a bit as he said "Finally! This is what lobster should taste like." He tried to force feed me some, but I was too busy molesting my lobster roll that I had doused with butter and lemon. The meat was everything it should be and we ate everything on our plates, way past the point of fullness. We couldn't have been happier. On top of that, my potato chips were super excellent.

The owner was there, waiting on people and smiling as he watched the enjoyment his customers were taking in the simple, yet incredible food. Rock on, dude, rock on.

Jon and I were in ecstasy. This was the food of our childhoods, food that plays into thousands of our memories. We can't wait to go back so we can plow through the rest of the menu, which includes all manner of fried seafoods and fish pleasures. For this Boston girl and Jersey boy, OPLS has brought us home.


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

Sunday, April 09, 2006

There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Or in this case, a free dinner. We were fortunate enough to be wined and dined last night courtesy of Derrick and Melissa. That's right, we got to eat a meal prepared by the folks behind Obsession With Food. I don't know how I got on their short list, but if you find out please tell me so I'll get invited back.

I mean, who makes their own foie gras, honestly? Never mind the incredible duck confit or the bitchin' apricot and hazelnut napoleon with my most favorite of all the custards there are (that would be lemon curd).

So, D & M, thank you. I'll come to your restaurant any time.


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

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mixed Bag

OK, I'm going to Chicago. You knew I would. Thanks to all those that enabled me -- I'll be sure to post a play by play of the circus, I mean meal. I really have no self control whatsoever.

Except when it comes to keeping industry secrets. I try to be the good little Restaurant Whore and not screw over the people who allowed me to assume this moniker in the first place. So I keep their secrets. And then they get all outed and crap. So yeah, that was #4. And SD will indeed be in the new Westfield Centre a la Out the Door, as well as having a deli type set-up on Fillmore that will include Asian utensils for those too rich or too lazy to buy them dirt cheap on Clement Street.

Number 3 was also outed in the Chronicle article. Yes, my friends, we are getting a 'wichcraft. Hallelujah and so on. Last week, in the span of 24 hours, I got an e-mail from both a 'wichcraft NYC employee and a former Gramercy Tavern employee who had come across my review of the Vegas location. Apparently my pleas at the end of that review were heard. 'wichcraft NYC asked me to hold off on the writing. I'm a bit perplexed as to why I didn't get the official news from their PR firm, though, as I'm on their list. Hmmm...

Also, the formal announcement that Michelin would take on SF/Napa/Sonoma as it's next US Locale was made today. Praise Jesus for that. It might just make me throw that list in the toilet where it can go visit the Zagat Guide I threw in there years ago. Like any other reviewing type organization, I'm sure there will be a shitload that we all disagree with. Generally, though, I think Michelin rocks. Hooray for tires!

This week has been frustrating to no end what with the scooping and hemorrhaging money and all. Thank Bacchus I'm going on vacation next week. I had a post about Old Port Lobster Shack half typed before the computer lab in my school lost power. Serves me right for whoring it up at work (and at a school, no less). I'll get it up soon, and I'll also try to post about the kickin' meal I had at Aziza on Sunday.

A reader also let me know that the Dining Room at the Ritz was added to the list after the fact. I'd like to think I had something to do with it, but then again, I'd also like to think that the size 2 pants in my closet still fit. Both highly unrealistic, don't you think?


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

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


OK, I need some help here...

Is it totally fucking ridiculous to fly to Chicago for only 24 hours so that I can go to the Alinea one-year-anniversary dinner with my favorites? Or does it up my street cred. as the Restaurant Whore if I actually do it?

Answers soon, please (F you are not allowed to answer this one).

Oh and did I mention I will have just returned from six days in Washington, DC with 80 8th graders?


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

Sunday, April 02, 2006

So I Have Some Questions...

The list is here. You all know how I love this day. And, as usual, I agree with about 80% of the selections.

I broke out the highlighter. In our house, the rules are that unless we've BOTH been there, the restaurant does not get highlighted. So this left us with 19 restaurants on the list that we have not been to yet. We are going to one of them tonight. There is also one that I've gone to, but Jon has not. Considering my lack of enthusiasm for the place, it's going to be a difficult one to check off.

I was thrilled to see that Range, which just delighted my palate a week ago, made our beloved list. And that Va de Vi, my culinary savior when I'm doing a show in the Creek has made a return appearance.

But, how on earth do you give the amazing Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton (which I ate at but have not reviewed due to time constraints -- it's certainly not due to lack of enthusiasm) four stars and then not include it on this list?

And riddle me this: why is there not one sushi restaurant on the entire fucking list? (Oh's an update. A reader alerted me to Sushi Ran -- which I don't count because, well, it's in Sausalito. But I also remembered Ozumo is on the list. Still, though, they are both so geared toward the rich and brainless that I have to take issue. I mean, where is Kiss on that list?).

Or what the hell is wrong with you that you include Tres Agaves but not Mamacita? They both opened around the same time and they're both "sit-down" Mexican. Mamacita is by far the superior restaurant. It seems Mamacita got reviewed too late for the list. Lame. (This is an update, thanks to Sam...I had thought they didn't review Mamacita at all).

Some of the repeats have got to be due to laziness. Because I ate at Downtown this year and it's nothing to write home about. The service downright sucked balls.

And, honestly, it's time to get over La Taqueria because there are about 5,000 other Mission taquerias that can kick it's no-rice-pinto-beans-only ass.

Don't even get me started on the repeat inclusion of Michael Mina and Fleur de Lys. Unless you want to be washing blood off the walls. If I've said it once I've said it again: In the case of these two restaurants, the emperor is just plain nekkid.

And while Medicine Eatstation is innovative, I certainly cannot understand it being on this list considering it's aversion to all things "stimulating."

That's it. I'm doing my own list this year. I'll be putting it together in all that free time I've got.

The Whore has spoken.


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