Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dinner @ Robin in San Francisco, CA

I recently had the chance to dine at Robin in San Francisco.  It's a relatively new sushi restaurant that's gotten some very good reviews.  The chronicle gave a great review, as did SFweekly.

One thing that's interesting about Robin is there is no set price for their omakase tasting menus.  You give the staff your price range (currently the options are $79 to $179) and they curate a meal based on the price.  The more expensive you go, the more courses you get and/or you get higher quality ingredients.  I suspect some of the dishes below would get extra truffle, extra caviar, etc.

Without any idea of what to go for, we just went with a $100 price per person.  Later on, we upped this to $120 to get a few more courses because we didn't think we'd be quite full by the end.  So this is what we ended up getting.  Because there was no printed menu, I don't remember the ingredients in every dish, so I list what I can recall.

1) sea bream sashimi w/ pomegranate, pistachio, and chile

Overall, a good starting sashimi dish.  A combo of flavors that I hadn't really seen before.

2) skip jack, trout w/ persimmon, and sea bream

The skip jack and trout were my favorites.  I thought the slice of persimmon on the trout was interesting.

3) nori chip, wagyu, uni, asian pearl, shallots

This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.  Lots of great flavors and textures all mixed together.

4) red sea bream, salmon with tomato & basil, hamachi with grapefruit & pepper

The salmon with tomato and basil was an interesting combination.  Sort of an italian take on sushi.  Not bad but not a favorite.

5) albacore tuna with ponzu sauce

Pretty good, although albacore is not my particular favorite fish.

6) crab dashi with sunchoke and Japanese greens

Overall really good, although there wasn't a lot of soup.  But it's a good break from all the fish.

7) blue fin tuna, seared big eye tuna with salsa, big eye tuna

The blue fin on the left was good.  The other tuna was pretty good, but big eye tuna isn't a personal favorite of mine.

8) sesame ramen noodles with chimichurri and truffles

I did not expect to see something like this on the tasting menu.  Sesame isn't my favorite flavor, but overall this was quite tasty.

9) uni donburi with uni whip cream and salmon roe

This was probably my favorite dish of the night.  The ikura & uni by itself was delicious, but the uni whip cream gave it this extra creaminess.

10) potato chip with caviar

I had seen pictures of this nigiri online and was not expecting much, but it was actually quite tasty.  I wasn't particularly fond of the texture differences between the rice and potato, but I can see why a lot of people would like it.  My +1 really liked the texture difference.

11) mackerel, toro, uni with emulsified egg yolk

I love mackerel and the mackerel on the left was delicious.  The emulsified egg yolk sauce on top of the uni on the right was basically pure umami.  With the uni, rich and creamy and delicious.

This is the point in the meal where the waitress said we were at our last savory course and we told her to bump up our omakase from $100 to $120.  So I suspect the $20 was for the next three courses.

12) uni with caviar

Basically more creamy umami goodness.  Only knock is that after the uni above, I felt this was too much uni back to back.  Something could have been put in between.

13) mackerel with ginger/ponzu foam

I'm not a big fan of foam, but overall quite good hit of flavors.

14) toro tartare with morel mushroom reduction sauce

This dish came with some bread to put the toro tartare onto.  The morel mushroom sauce at the bottom of the dish was particularly good.

15) wagyu with shaved frozen foie gras

This was really interesting and also really good.  Definitely in my top three for the night.  Michael Bauer called it a great way to mix fat with fat.

16) white truffle softserve with olive oil and hazelnuts

Not a big fan of nuts in general, but the soft serve with olive oil was interesting.  Tasty, but not my favorite.

It's important to note that five of the dishes above were shared for two people (#1, #5, #8, #9, #14).  I was expecting to bit more full after seeing photos online, but had not realized that so many dishes were shared.  So one should account for that when considering the amount of the food in the above.

Overall, a great meal.  My immediate thought is how does this compare to other omakases I've had, such as at Kusakabe or Delage.  Overall, I'd say it's only a notch below Kusakabe.  But it's not that much below.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Dinner @ Michael Mina in San Francisco, CA

Michael Mina has long been considered one of the best restaurants in San Francisco.  It held 2 Michelin Stars at one point, eventually lost both stars, but has been holding steady at 1 Michelin Star.  The last San Francisco Chronicle review gave the restaurant a 3.5 star review.

I finally got to try the place out with some friends the other night.  The restaurant currently offers a 5 course price fixe menu or a tasting menu.  We went with the tasting menu.  The tasting menu dishes are a secret before its brought out, although I saw the menu online before we went so it was only a half-secret. 

1) Amuse

I thought it was pretty cool to bring out three amuses out on one dish, which I don't believe I've seen before.  On the left we have kampachi with (I think) plum and popcorn.  Up top we have octopus with some sauce.  On the right we have oyster with some sauce I don't recall.  I especially liked the kampachi.

2) Bread

I often don't post pictures of bread, but I'll post this mostly b/c of the butter.  It's a butter, ricotta, and honey mixture.  It was delicious.


This was delicious.  Could have come from a high end sushi restaurant.  Also came with some fresh grated wasabi, which they did tableside for a few of us.


I'm normally not a fan Santa Barbara uni, but I really enjoyed this.  The staff said this uni was alive just before it was served.  The uni was more creamy than I am used to it being, unsure if it's due to the freshness.  Also included in this dish was tomato and trout roe.


I honestly did not expect to like this dish, as it appeared to be a fancy form of caprese salad.  I had to look up what "noble tonic" is, and it appears to be some maple syrup, which is their fancy balsamic in this dish.

However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Somehow everything really came together much better than I had expected.  Included were 4 different heirloom tomato types, some lemon verbana foam, a tomato crisp you see on top.  I'm unsure if it was dried or fried to create the crisp, but it was especially good.


I had never had "sugar toad" fish before, but really enjoyed it.  The skin was particularly amazing, as it was a thick crust unlike any other fish I can recall.  Included on this dish was some citrus on the left and shishito pepper on the right.


This pasta was delicious, much stronger flavors yet not overwhelming.


From left to right we had quail with figs, some foie gras with fig, and finally quail with mole sauce and some mushrooms.  The figs were really good, but I felt it may have drowned out the quail & foie a bit.  The quail with mole sauce was the best part of this dish.


I had no idea what matbucha is, but apparently it's a tomato & pepper sauce, which is the orange-ish sauce you see in the photo.  The waiter said it's a sauce with South America origins, but online they say it's got African origins.  Oh well.  Pretty good, although the tomato based sauce wasn't a flavor that met my particular taste preferences.  I really enjoyed the eggplant and the lamb-belly on the left.

10) Palette Cleanser - Shaved ice with Hibiscus and compressed watermelon

This was the off menu palette cleanser.  I think this is the first time I've ever had shaved ice as a palette cleanser as its normally sorbet.  But given the dessert below is sherbet, I guess they wanted to go non-ice-cream like.  Overall pretty good.  The compressed watermelon was hidden underneath of course.  I'm not sure what the crunchy red things on top were, but they were tasty.  Some dried fruit of some type.


This was a great dessert, one of the best I can recall having (although TBD if it'll get into my top ten).  Melon sherbet on the right, shiso cake & chunks of melon on the bottom, covered up with crispy stuff.  Delicious.

12) Mignardise

Obviously this is for the group and not just me :-)  I believe it was yuzu macaron, lemon pate de fruit,  and kaffir lime chocolate.  The chocolate was my favorite of the three.

One of the interesting things about this meal is that it was about 4 hours long from sit down to bill being paid.  That's really long given the relatively small number of courses.  As a random contrast, French Laundry was about 3 hours and 15 minutes, and Atelier Crenn was less than 3 hours despite 19 courses of food being brought out.  We were a group of 6 instead of just the typical two of us, so perhaps that was part of the reason for it taking such a long time.

Overall a good meal.  I will say that at $195 the price for the tasting menu feels a bit high for the bay area.  As a contrast, 1 Michelin starred Californios clocks in at $157 right now.  2 Michelin starred Commis in Oakland is at $159 now.  It's possible this price is due to being located in San Francisco's Financial District, which I'm sure has some premium attached to it.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lunch @ Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, CA

After a stay at Solage in Calistoga, we decided to grab lunch at one other place in Napa before heading home.  We decided to try the famed Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, CA.

Bouchon is the famed casual cousin of The French Laundry.  With this meal, I would have finally finished dining at the Thomas Keller triumvirate of restaurants in Yountville (also includes Ad Hoc).

The menu at Bouchon is classic French Bistro cuisine.  There are tons of appetizers and hors d'oeuvres that you can fill up on, or you can get normal main courses that are quite large.  The waiter said that for lunch, a lot of people would fill up on smaller dishes.  So that's mostly what we did.  We got three small dishes and one entree.  Here's an overview of what we got.

1) Escargots à la Bourguignonne - Burgundy snails, parsley-garlic butter & Bouchon Bakery puff pastry

I can't recall if I've ever had snails served like this, with the little puff pastry on top.  I had assumed the puff pastry was going to be on the side to dip into the snail garlic butter afterwards.  Overall pretty good, but perhaps not my most favorite snail dish I've ever had.

2) Huîtres

While I was writing this up, I was trying to think "why did we order oysters?"  While good, you can get oysters anywhere.  Shouldn't we have gotten something unique to Bouchon?  Then I remembered.

There are a number of "put on bread" types of dishes that you can get at Bouchon: caviar, charcuterie, pate, foie gras, etc.  You can also dip bread into a number of dishes (such as the escargot above or the mussels below).  So we decided to go with the oysters  to try and mix up our dishes.

They offered two types, California and Rhode Island (IIRC).  I preferred the California ones.

3) Assiette de Charcuterie - served with pickled vegetables

I was pretty surprised when they brought this out.  It was way bigger than I expected.  I'm used to a tiny pile of pickles on the side of a charcuterie plate, but the pickled vegetables on the side was huge.  The variety of the vegetables was also quite large.

As for the charcuturie, there was pate, salami, coppa, and some bread with cheese melted on it (can't remember what kind).  The coppa was particularly delicious.  Both it and the salami didn't have quite the high salt kick you're typically accustomed to compared to store bought.  The coppa was also much "softer".  It's hard to describe.  The pate was also delicious, perhaps the best pate I've ever had.

4) Moules au Safran - Maine bouchot mussels, steamed with white wine, Dijon mustard & saffron, served with French fries

So unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the mussels when this bowl was full of mussels.  So just try and imagine it with more mussels in the bowl :-)

Overall, quite good.  The white wine sauce was delicious.  The fries were pretty good.  If you wanted to get just the mussels and fries as an entree, it would definitely fill you up, as there are a lot of fries.

5) Bouchon Bakery

We decided not to get any dessert and instead went next door to Bouchon Bakery and picked up some desserts to go.

We picked up two macarons (raspberrry and rose), a lemon tart, and a chocolate eclair.

The chocolate eclair was delicious, perhaps the best I've ever tasted.  The lemon tart as well.  Of the two macarons, I enjoyed the raspberry one the most.

Overall, a fun trip to Bouchon.  The one knock I have against Bouchon Bistro is that it is a very classic French Bistro food.  For me, I like to try and taste new and different things that I haven't had before.

While I'm sure dishes such as their steak & frites or their croque madam are delicious and better than many other restaurants, I'm not sure if that's what I necessarily would like to adventure out to get if in Napa.  But if you're more interested in something more casual and familiar, I think Bouchon Bistro is a great place to hit up.

Meals @ Solbar in Calistoga, CA

I recently stayed in Solage in Calistoga, CA. Solage is home to Solbar, a 1 Michelin star restaurant they have on site that serves high quality California cuisine.

I came here once before for lunch, but this time I had items from their breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, I decided to cover everything I ate in one post.  So here's an overview of everything we ate.


Over two days, we ordered four different breakfast dishes from Solbar via room service.

1) smoked monterey salmon - “everything” golden bagel, pickled veggies bellweather farms, fromage blanc

The first thing I noticed was how much food there was.  I actually wasn't expecting too much, just at typical bagel with some cream cheese and salmon lox.  But as you can see on the right, it's *alot* of salmon lox.  They even threw in a hard boiled egg for good measure.  The pickled cucumber slices were delicious with some chili kick.  Overall, quite good and a good value.

2) morning in california fresh blue crab and avocado - open-face on a toasted english muffin, with ruby red grapefruit and mint

This was delicious.  The crab had a salty brininess to it.  Perfect combination with the avocado and English muffin.  Favorite breakfast item we tried.

3) three-seed sourdough french toast - with vanilla poached strawberries

When this came out, my first thought was "this is a lot of french toast".  I'd never had french toast with sourdough before.  Strawberries were delicious, overall quite good.

4) chia seed pudding - house made almond milk, tahitian vanilla crème fraiche, valrhona manjari 64% cacao, gipson’s honey, fresh berries, medjool dates

On the left you'll find a couscous asian salad with some pickled cucumber, which I believe was the same pickled cucumber that I had with the salmon lox above.  I loved the salad, the pickles with the couscous was a great combo.

On the right you'll find the chia seed pudding.  To my recollection, I have never tried chia before, so I can just assume that whatever flavor I tasted is simply chia flavor.  It reminded me a bit of oatmeal, having a "grain" type of taste to it.  A bit hard to judge because of the new flavor to me, but I will say it tasted very healthy to me.


Four of us had lunch at Solbar, so we grabbed four plates to share.  It's worth noting that the tacos/wraps below normally come in threes, but they were able to portion add an additional taco/wrap for us.

1) prosciutto e melone - summer melon, parma ham, chargrilled onions, shaved santa rosa feta, honey lavender vinaigrette

This dish reminded me of a salad we had at Ad Hoc.  Just like that dish, the melon was sous vided or vacuumed in some way to give it a translucent look.

Overall a refreshing salad.  I did find it interesting that the prosciutto was placed into the onion "rings" instead of being wrapped around the melon or sprinkled around the salad.  It sort of made it hard to mix slices of prosciutto with the melon.

2) spicy shrimp lettuce wraps - rice noodles, tamarind dressing, avocado, nam pla dipping sauce

This was my favorite item for lunch.  A lot of good flavors mixed together.  Really good.

3) yellowfin tuna sliders - with black garlic sauce and kohlrabi slaw on a pain au lait bread

The restaurant kindly cut these in half so everyone would get a half of a slider.  The tuna was cooked rare-ish, so it was definitely raw in the middle of the patty.  I'm not a fan of sashimi for burgers, so overall I thought this was pretty good, but not my favorite.  Others will probably enjoy it more than me.

4) crispy petrale sole tacos - sweet and sour cabbage, cilantro and spicy aioli on warm tortillas

Not much to say about this dish other than these were pretty good fish tacos.  The fish the flaky and not overcooked like you'd find at a lot of places.


We ate as a large group at Solbar, so we had a shortened menu compared to the normal one served at restaurant.  But all the items were from the main menu.

1) amuse bouche

First up, the table was given this amuse dish.  I remember cucumber, octopus, and togarashi as ingredients.  Overall quite tasty, with a bit of a spicy kick.

2A) charred spanish octopus - wildflower honey, yukon gold, niçoise olive

Overall a really good dish.  Octopus was cooked perfectly.  Underneath the large octopus chunk was a salad with olives, some nuts, and some greens, which I didn't get the ingredients of.  I'm not a fan of olives, so I didn't eat all of it.  But the fact I could even eat half of the salad was testament to the fact it was pretty good.

2B)  little gem rosaine, wild mustard, fennel - radish, gravenstein apple pistachio vinaigrette

My +1 got this little gem salad.  Of the few bites I tried, it seemed pretty good.

3A) black cod and venere rice - uni butter, squash, coconut-turmeric broth

This was delicious.  Fish was cooked perfectly, perfectly flaky, lots of flavors.  There were multiple types of squash in this dish.

3B) sautéed halibut and mussels - roasted corn nage, toybox tomato, shishitos

I'm not a big fan of "meaty" fish (halibut, salmon, tuna), but of the few bites of this dish I tasted, the fish was a bit flakier than what I'm used to with halibut.  The sauce was a cream and corn type of sauce from my recollection.   Overall quite good, although I enjoyed the cod a lot more.

Overall, I was really pleased with the food at Solbar.  It's clearly a notch above a number of other restaurants in the Napa area and highly recommend it.  The prices are also not that unreasonable compared to many places.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Top 50 Restaurants vs Michelin

Not too long ago I watched this video about Michelin starred restaurants and the sometimes inconceivable difference between restaurant reviewers and Michelin reviewers.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the greatest example is Chez Panisse. It's been heralded as one of the great American Restaurants for years. It held a Michelin star from (I think) 2006-2009, but lost it in 2010.  Despite holding a 4/4 rating from the San Francisco Chronicle (one of only 9 in the Bay Area) and still getting great reviews (as of this writing #117 on Opinionated About Dining's top US restaurants), somehow it can't seem to get a single Michelin Star.

I wonder how Michelin maps to the famed Top 50 restaurants in the world list.  How inconsistent are they to that list.  I recall that Noma, the formerly #1 restaurant in the world didn't even get a 3 Michelin star rating.

Well, lets take a look.  Here's a chart of the Top 50 restaurants in the world from The World's 50 Best Restaurants and the restaurant's Michelin stars. There are many locales that Michelin does not yet review, so those restaurants are simply listed as N/A.

Rank Restuarant Stars
1 Eleven Madison Park 3
2 Osteria Francescana 3
3 El Celler De Can Roca 3
4 Mirazur 2
5 Central N/A
6 Asador Etxebarri 1
7 Gaggan N/A
8 Maido N/A
9 Mugaritz 2
10 Steirereck 2
11 Blue Hill at Stone Barns 1
12 Arpege 3
13 Alain Ducasse Au Plaza Athenee 3
14 Restaurant Andre 2
15 Piazza Duomo 3
16 D.O.M. 2
17 Le Bernardin 3
18 Narisawa 2
19 Geranium 3
20 Pujol N/A
21 Alinea 3
22 Quintonil N/A
23 White Rabbit N/A
24 Amber 2
25 Tickets 1
26 Clove Club 1
27 The Ledbury 2
28 Nahm N/A
29 Le Calandre 3
30 Arzak 3
31 Alleno Paris Au Pavillon Ledoyen 3
32 Attica N/A
33 Astrid Y Gaston N/A
34 De Librije 3
35 Septime 1
36 Dinner by Heston Blumenthal 2
37 Saison 3
38 Azurmendi 3
39 Relae 1
40 Cosme 0
41 Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet 2
42 Borago N/A
43 Reale 3
44 Brae N/A
45 Den 1
46 L'Astrance 3
47 Vendome 3
48 Restaurant Tim Raue 2
49 Tegui N/A
50 Hof Van Cleve 3

While a large portion of the list is made up of 3 Michelin Star restaurants, I find it interesting that half (of those reviewed) aren't 3 stars (19/38).  Even more amazingly, 7 are 1 Michelin starred, and 1 doesn't even have a single star!

Obviously, review criteria can be different for the Top 50 list and Michelin.  But it is quite interesting to see this disparity.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Dinner @ Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London, United Kingdom

While on a trip to London I wanted to check out atleast one well regarded restaurant.  Reservations were tough all around at many famous places (The Ledbury, Gordon Ramsay, The Fat Duck, etc.), however I was able to snag a seat at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

Heston Blumenthal is the famed chef behind The Fat Duck, a 3 Michelin star restaurant that is formerly ranked the #1 restaurant in the world.  Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is his semi-casual effort.  In some ways, if Bouchon is to French Laundry, then one might say Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is to The Fat Duck.  Except this place got 2 Michelin Stars and is currently ranked as the #36 restaurant in the world.  Go figure.

Anyways, the restaurant is an a la carte menu only.  You can order appetizers, mains, sides, and/or desserts.  The waiter said an appetizer, main, and dessert was the right amount of food.  We ended up adding one side because we really wanted to try one.  Here's an overview of what we had.

1A) meat fruit - mandarin, chicken liver parfait, & grilled bread

1B) earl grey tea cured salmon - lemon salad, gentleman's relish, wood sorrel & exmoor caviar

We shared these two appetiziers.  The first is apparently a signature appetizer from the restaurant.  It's a chicken liver and foie gras mixed pate incased in a mandarin gelatin.  Obviously, it's been made to look like a mandarin orange and it looks pretty close (the leaves are not edible).  Here's a picture of what it looks like when you cut into it.

Overall delicious.  At first I thought the gelatin would mess with the texture of the dish (in my head, I was thinking it would be something like fondant).  I figured the gelatin must have been strong enough to hold the mandarin shape.  However, the gelatin was thin/soft and added a bit of citrus hint to the spread when put on toast.

For our second appetizer we had the cured salmon dish.  I'm not the biggest fan of salmon, but this was delicious.  The sauce at the bottom was particularly delicious.  I'm not sure what it was, but I assume lemon was in it as well as the relish b/c it had a bit of pickling flavor.  As you can see in the pic, the caviar was on the salmon.

2A) powdered duck breast - grilled red cabbage, smoked pickled beetroot, spiced umbles

2B) spiced pigeon - ale & artichoke

2C) triple cooked chips

For our two mains we had the duck and the pigeon.  The duck was among the best duck I've ever had.  It was cooked about medium, which is much preferred over rare which some restaurants do.  I was debating if I liked it more than the duck from Keiko A Nob Hill, which up until now is my favorite duck dish.  I had to look up what "spiced umbles" were, but apparently they are internal organs, such as intestines.  I assume it was the stuff on top of the duck breast slices, but I'm not 100% sure.

For the second entree, we had spiced pigeon.  This is one of the best dishes I think I've ever had.  The pigeon was super tender and flavorful, on the verge of barely needing chewing.  As much as I loved the squab from Chez Panisse, this is unquestionably the best squab/pigeon I've ever had.

For our side, we got the famed triple cooked chips from Heston Blumenthal.  They were created by Blumenthal in the 1990s and is now considered a classic dish throughout the UK.  The technique is to apparently boil, freeze, fry, freeze, then again fry the fries (and I'm obviously glossing over details).  The technique gives the fries a moist center and a very crispy thin-cracker-like exterior.  It's unlike any fry I've tried before.  According to wikipedia, Blumenthal calls the outside like "glass".  The description is fair, because the outside of the fry does seem to "crackle" and break with some consistency one would think is like glass.

The chips came with some mushroom ketchup, which was the predecessor to the modern day tomato based ketchup.  You can get tomato ketchup if you want instead.  I loved the texture of the chip, although the flavor at its most basic level was still potato flavor.  I still think the pickle brined frys from Al's Place still beat these out as my favorite fries of all time.

3A) tipsy cake - spit roast pineapple

3B) spring tart - gariguette strawberries, rose, lovage and basil yogurt, goats milk ice cream

3C) ganache and biscuit

We chose two different desserts to share.  The restaurant also brought out some complementary ganache and a biscuit for us as well.

The first dessert above is apparently a signature dish of the restaurant.  It's a soft/fluffy brioche cake with cream at the bottom.  On the right was pineapple that had been spit roasted.  Overall, quite tasty.  The cake was very soft and fluffy.

The spring tart was our second dessert choice.  The green is the lovage & basil yogurt, which was la mousse-like texture.  It and the strawberries were on top of a cake.  The strawberries were vacuumed with fructose and (what I assume is) rose water.  They were super sweet and had a consistency that made me believe they had been cooked for a short period of time.  Add in the goat's milk ice cream on cookie crumbles, and its one of the best desserts I've ever had.

Overall a delicious meal.  It took about two hours in total time from the time we sat down.  I wish it could have been a tasting menu, as I would have loved to have tried many of the other dishes.