Monday, May 26, 2008

Meandering into Bong Su

Bong Su San Francisco
When it rains, it pours! Having finally made it to the Slanted Wall for my birthday the day before, I was lazing around my hotel room on a Sunday and expecting to have something simple for dinner. Instead, I ended up at another very chic Vietnamese food restaurant called Bong Su!

Earlier in the day, I had briefly walked down for a brunch at the nearby Chevy's for a meal of sizzling chicken and shrimp fajitas. From my room on the 16th floor, I could see some kind of celebration for which they had cordoned off part of 2nd Street; there was much music, dancing and prancing going on the entire day.

The day had been chilly throughout, but at 6 PM the sun finally came out and it seemed pleasant outside now. So, off I went expecting to discover some new place for dinner. As it turns out, I actually discovered this Vietnamese restaurant right around the corner, at 3rd Street and Folsom. Bong Su has an eye-catching and stylish decor. Sandstones figurines of Hindu Gods, dim lighting, smart hostesses and waiters all add to the elegance. Men will approve of the extra-slinky backless ensembles the hostesses wear. Let's just say no one with even a suggestion of love-handles will ever be hired as a hostess at Bong Su.

The menu categorizes dishes into southern, central and northern Vietnamese dishes. Executive chef, Tammy Huynh blends traditional and the classical with local American ingredients and contemporary style. Along with her partner, Anne Le, they also own Tamarine in Silicon Valley which has earned rave reviews from the time it opened.

I ordered a glass of Riesling and perused the menu. I finally decided to begin with the Nem Meatballs from Central Vietnam. These were grilled pork meatballs marinated in roasted rice powder and served with a chili-hoisin sauce. The starter went rather well with the Riesling.

I then ordered the South Vietnamese Carmelized Black Cod, an Alaskan cod crusted with garlic, black pepper, molasses and onion. I ordered a side of coconut rice with it. The fish was absolutely delicious; so very most and flaky and very good with the sweet and pungent sauce. Please note though, that the portions are small here.

For dessert, I asked my waitress for her favorite. Turns out that was a good idea. The Coconut Panna Cotta, with kaffir lime, mango, pineapple granite with mint and passion fruit reduction was very exotic and very delicious.

As regular readers will notice, I don't have pictures of the food, like I usually always do. For once I didn't remember to take my camera along since I wasn't planning a special dinner. However, this is one place I am certain to return to!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Slanted Door And More

Guitar Man at SausalitoI have been wanting to eat at this acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant for a while now. The catch was that finding a table here without an advance reservation is next to impossible. Today - the 3rd of May - I had woken up feeling lucky and wanted to give it another try; it was my birthday after all!

I was away from family and friends this birthday, but the constant stream of phone calls, text messages, email and Facebook/Orkut posts from around the world did make me feel special. I left my hotel room at about 10:30AM and took a taxi to the Ferry Building. Being a Saturday, the mood was festive here, with the Weekend Farmer's Market in full swing - makeshift tents with local farmers selling greens, vegetabls, olive oil, breads, flowers and mushrooms among other things. There were singers and musicians with their impromptu performances on the sidewalks. The morning air was crisp and clean and the sun shone brightly. It was going to be a great day!

Imperial Rolls at Slanted DoorSlanted Door is a modern Vietnamese restaurant located within the main Ferry Building towards the piers. I joined others waiting for the restaurant to open at 11AM. Even then, they were able to only sit me at their communal table, which was actually a good thing, than having to eat alone. I ordered their much talked about Crispy Imperial Rolls followed by Niman Ranch Shaking Beef. The imperial rolls are stuffed with shrimp and pork and served with glass noodles and crushed peanuts along with some salad greens. The portions were larger than I had expected. The rolls were very good and the dip perfectly complimented it!

Shaking Beef at Slanted DoorThe Shaking Beef was cubed filet mignon sauteed with garlic, watercrest and red onions in a soy vinaigrette and accompanied by a pepper and lime juice dipping sauce. The meat was a little chewy, but very tasty. I relished it with a bowl of brown rice on the side. This dish is very popular here and lived up to its reputation too! Shaking beef is a classic Vietnamese preparation, and Chef Charles Phan is considered quite an expert (New York Times article).

Dessert at Slanted DoorAs is usual, I had to try their dessert too. My waiter recommended the very exotic sounding Coconut Ginger Ice-cream Sandwich. This dessert had a coconut dacquoise with frozen coconut ice-cream and a kumquat compote. The ice-cream was sandwiched between the cruncy layers of the dacquoise, and was a treat to eat. The tangy taste of kumquot also went well with the dessert. Absolutely delicious and highly recommended!

Slanted DoorAs I walked out of Slanted Door, I realized the ferry to Sausalito was leaving in five minutes. On a whim, I bought myself a return ticket and jumped on the ferry. The 30 minute journey to Sausalito was wonderful, especially because it was a sunny morning and the view was fantastic. The boats in the Bay, the massive Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate catching the sunlight in the distance, and the quaint little houses on the Sausalito coast all made for a picture-perfect setting. Interestingly, we also had a rare whale sighting close to the coast!

After reaching, I strolled the streets nearby checking out the many art exhibitions and curio shops. It was time to take the ferry back to San Francisco and walk back to my hotel. As I passed by the Sony Metreon, I realized Iron Man was playing and decided to catch the show. In the gardens nearby, there was a band playing and people lazily watched the show as they basked in the warmth of the sun on the lawns.

The day ended for me with dinner at Osha, which is fast becoming the default dining place for me whenever I am here. I have always loved Thai food, and their curries are nice and spicy, the portions large, and their ginger-infused cream brulee is absolutely fantastic!

Here is a slide-show of the San Francisco coastline from the Ferry, the Bay and the weekend Farmer's market at the Ferry Building. And yes, that is indeed a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the background in one of these pictures.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Archipelago & Wine Tasting

Archipelago BurlingameI was invited to be part of a team dinner before our big meeting the next day. There were about about twenty of us from all around the globe, and it was good to spend some quality time catching up. What was also good was the dining place of choice for tonight, Archipelago in Burlingame, San Francisco.

This restaurant aims to provide a distinctive European-Asian cuisine accented by sensual design elements. They claim to have brought together elements of French and Spanish cuisine inspired by the flavors of the Philippines. Burlingame is very close to the San Francisco International airport. If you are in one of the hotels near the airport, this is a great place to try out.

Salad at ArchipelagoOn this day, I was planning to have a relatively lighter meal, and therefore chose fish and veggies. From their interesting selection of small plates, I ordered the Fresh Hearts of Palm & Roasted Beet Salad that contained olives, balsamic reduction and greens. It was interesting, but not as much as their popular Quartet of Hot and Cold Oysters served with lemongrass mignonette and a spicy mango chutney. Need to definitely order that the next time!

Salmon Entree at ArchipelagoMy 'healthy' entree was the Salmon fillet served with mashed potatoes and butter beans. While the entree was perfectly done, there were other meat dishes my fellow diners ordered that looked like even better choices at this restaurant. The Spice Perfumed Slow Braised Short Ribs was one. With coconut cream risotto, sauteed brocollini, Asian peppercorn jus, beans and carrot. Another was the Pepper Crusted Half Lamb Rack that came with sauteed forest mushrooms and baby carrots.

Dessert at ArchipelagoMy dessert of the Duo of Cream Brulee - Vietnamese Coffee and Hazelnut - was a fitting end to this wonderful meal, made even more unforgettable by the company of colleagues from far-flung places. While I was with a large group, this restaurant is the perfect setting for a romantic dinner for two.

Wine TastingDuring the two days of the global leadership meeting, I was invited to two different wine-tasting receptions. While I don't know my wines as well as I do my food, it was fun to taste a variety of different wines and take baby steps towards understanding their subtle differences. One of the wine tasting events was from by a local winery, Clos La Chance, that began in a techie's garage in Silicon Valley (how fitting!).

Bottles of WineThere was a game of guessing the mystery wine, and while my team didn't win, my colleagues from the winning team graciously gifted me the wine bottles they won: ruby-throated Cabernet Sauvignon. The other wine-tasting was at the Los Gatos home of my boss, who also happens to own a vineyard in New Zealand. Here we tasted the wine from his vineyards in addition to others. This was fun!


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Junnoon in Palo Alto

Sea Bass at JunnoonNow that many friends and colleagues know about my interest in discovering new food and restaurants, they tend to invite me to their favorite places when I am in town. This time I was invited to an Indian restaurant that has been making waves in Palo Alto.

Junnoon is the brain-child of first-time resturanteur, Sabena Puri. While she pretty much had no background in the food business, she does have an interesting background. Sabena is an Harward MBA and worked in the software industry for a number of years as a Product Manager. She also happens to be the daughter of the person who founded Moser Baer, one of the largest manufacturers of DVDs and CDs in the world.

Old Delhi Chicken at JunnoonJunnoon is also among those new restaurants in the USA that have managed to elevate Indian food into a fine-dining experience for their predominantly Western clientele. The food is more Mantra than Amber, two other similar Indian restaurants in the heart of Silicon Valley. Actually, Junnoon is located in the same building as Facebook.

They have an interesting menu of appetizers, but we went directly to entrees. We decided to share two entrees: the Rice-flaked Sea Bass and the Old Delhi-style Chicken. The Sea Bass was a Kerala-inspired, New Zealand blue-nose sea bass preparation with a rice-flaked crust. The fish was served in braising greens and a kokum sauce. The Chicken dish was a tikka masala inspired chicken dish served in a fenugreek seasoned tomato and onion sauce.

Dessert at JunnoonThe fish was moist inside with a crunchy crust. While the fish was good, I must say that the Sea Bass I had in Mantra was better than Junnoon's version. The Old Delhi Chicken was good too, but I like this dish more spicy than it was here. In retrospect, I probably should have begun with their starters which I hear are pretty good.

In any case, loved their desserts! The Baked Apples in Cinnamon Rabdi was quite delightful and innovative as was the Pumpkin Flan with Pumpkin Seed 'Chikki'. Apparently, the molten chocolate here is very good too, with an east-west combination of flavors and taste.

Dessert at JunnoonThe modern and chic decor goes well with the fusion cuisine. Techo-raaga plays in the background, and a palette of metallic colors in the lounge area and the sheer ceiling-to-floor silken drapes makes for a great ambiance.

Floyd Cardoz of Tabla fame is the executive chef of Junnoon. Here is a podcast interview of Sabena Puri if you are interested in more details. Junoon is located at 150 University Avenue, Palo Alto.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Other Bay Area Moments

Straits RestaurantWaking up late on a Saturday, I ventured outside my hotel in downtown San Francisco. Unusually, it was quite warm outside and the wind actually felt good rather than chilly. I went up to the Virgin Superstore to see if they were had additional Wii controllers, but had no luck. I will have to buy another copy of Wii Play to get a new controller, which kind of sucks!

Then it was time for lunch and I found myself in Straits Restaurant at Union Square (inside the Westfield Shopping Center). Nice little place which proudly advertised that Roti John was available during all hours. Roti John! What the heck is that?

Roti, of course, is Indian bread. But the origins of Roti John is a Singapore legend. One version says that Roti John had been inspired by a homesick tourist named John who was in search of a sandwich. Failing in his search, a helpful hawker sliced up a loaf of French bread, clapped in a mixture of minced mutton and onion and dipped the whole in beaten egg which he fried until crisp. As locals took to Roti John, it soon becomes a staple at Muslim food stalls.

Another explanation about the origination of Roti John said that this food is actually named after the British who were stationed in Singapore during the colonial era. Roti means bread in Malay and the British were known as “John” to the Malays and that is how the name of this dish originated.

As for what I ate here: The Spicy Basil Chicken wasn't very spicy but was otherwise good. The Singapore Sling was nice and refreshing too.

Cypress CupertinoOh, and I got myself a new set of Bose speakers for the home computer. I like my Dell system - but it came with the worst speakers! These new Bose speakers do not require a seperate sub-woofer and yet reproduces deep, realistic low tones in spite of its small size. How cool is that?

The next day, I checked into The Cypress in Cupertino. After getting some email sorted out, I strolled into Arya for another delightful dinner (you can read about my first visit to Arya here). This time, I started with the Borani Baedemjoon, a medley of sauteed eggplant, yogurt, onions, garlic and mint garnished with kaskh (whey). The crunchiness of the fried onions, the taste of eggplant and the acidity of the whey added up to a great starter.

Starter at AryaFor my entree, I had ordered Chello Kabab Barg, a flattened kabab of minced USDA beef, seaonsed and perfectly grilled, then cut into strips. The Barg came with the usual Persian staple of fragrant, long-grained rice topped with butter. This was delicious too.

Chello Kabab Barg at AryaI decided to stick with Persian till the very end and chose Bakhlava for dessert. I like my bakhlava a little more crunchy and a little less sweet than the one I tasted here. I ended with a cup of Persian tea that was flavored with cardomom and no milk. All in all, a good dinner! Arya continues to be a great place to go for Persian food and an upscale ambiance.

Baklava at AryaThe next day, I ended up at a nearby Chinese buffet restaurant, strangely just called Great Buffet. The restaurant was mostly empty, the food - variety of sushi, BBQ, dim-sums, noodles, fried rice, crab legs and other meat dishes - was not great. Some of the dishes were cold and the sushi did not look fresh. However, the BBQ was hot and good and the Green Tea ice-cream saved the day. Overall, not a place I will recommend.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

One Market in San Francisco

One MarketOne Market opened in San Francisco in 1994 with a lot of fanfare and well-known chef Bradley Ogden at the helm. Then the restaurant went through a period of lows as chefs changed frequently. However, since Chef Mark Dommen took over in 2004, things have looked up, culminating in a coveted Michelin star last year. Incidentally, Mark began his career under Hubert Keller of the Fleur de Lys, one of my personal favorites in San Francisco fine dining.

Starters at One MarketFeaturing floor to ceiling windows, an exhibition kitchen and a large bar area, One Market is just a short walk across The Embarcadero from the Ferry Building. Chef Mark Dommen has a seasonally changing menu that includes several inventive farm-fresh dishes.

I chose the prix fixe 'winter menu'. The first course was Sauteed wild Gulf shrimp on a bed of cucumber, daikon and green chile vinaigrette. The shrimp was fresh, crunchy and tasted really good with the vinaigrette.

Scallops at One MarketThe next course was a choice between duck and scallops. I chose the pan-seared day boat Scallops. Again fresh and tasty but the portions were too large for me. The scallops were placed on an orange foam that tasted of curry and contained fresh, tender green peas, sprouts and butter beans.

Galette at One MarketDessert was a warm apple rhubarb galette with strawberry-rhubarb caramel and vanilla bean ice-cream. I ended up scooping out the fruit and ice-cream and leaving the rest.

The food here is fresh, simple and lives up to its reputation, but neighbouring Boulevard is warmer and livelier in ambiance, and would be my choice if asked to choose between the two. Located just across the Ferry Building, this is also a good choice for lunch after a stroll through the Farmers' Market on the weekends.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fix, Postrio & Dos Caminos

Las Vegas StripOn my last night in Vegas, I finally ventured out of the Venetian and stolled with a colleague to the nearby Bellagio with it's dancing water fountains. The weather was very pleasant and it was fun leisurely walking through the neon-lit Strip's sidewalks.

After reaching the Bellagio, we headed straight to Fix for a drink. While at Fix they also serve contemporary All-American fare, we were content to sit at the bar with our drinks and talk. Constructed almost entirely of Costa Rican Padouk wood, this restaurant has been designed by Graft of Berlin to create a vibrant environment with an unique design. As the evening set in, the bar and lounge becane quickly full and lively. There were the obviously newly-weds lost in themselves, the animated groups of friends out for a party, pretty waitressses who looked in danger of spilling out of their little black dresses, and the tireless bartenders who expertly turned out drinks by the dozen.

Sliders at Postrio Las VegasAfter an hour and a few drinks later, we walked back to our hotel. We decided to go up to Wolfgang Puck's cafe, Postrio for a light dinner before retiring to our rooms. They have a wonderful selection in the Small Plates section. I chose the Kobe beef sliders with Tillamook cheddar and applewood smoked bacon, and the house-smoked salmon with dill creme fraiche and grilled brioche. The sliders are mini-cheeseburgers that melted in the mouth. The salmon too was wonderful to nibble along with the flaky brioche bread.

Soup at Dos CaminosNext day, I woke up late and missed my breakfast. However, since restaurants open early (as compared to India), I was able to walk into Dos Caminos for lunch at 11AM. Like in New York, Dos Caminos in Las Vegas offers contemporary, and inventive Mexican fare along with a vibrant bar scene. Building on classic Mexican staples of guacamole, empanadas and tacos, the menu includes signature items created exclusively for Las Vegas from Executive Chef Scott Linquist. They also offer an interesting breakfast menu along with an extensive tequila selection.

Tacos at Dos CaminosThe tortilla Soup of grilled chicken, tomato and red chile broth, queso fresco, and avocado was extra-ordinary. Thick and tasted of lentils/chick-peas. My Asada Tacos were made of grilled Kobe beef, carmalized onions, cotija cheese, guacamole. Like the waitress said, it doesn't get any better than this! For dessert I chose the Mexican flan, made of tequila-chocolate and berry salsita. The flan was very smooth, thick and appealing both to the eye and the palate.

Flan at Dos CaminosBoth food and ambiance in this restaurant are great! I thought the interior decor and lighting was very creative, especially in the large bar and lounge area. If you are in the Venetian-Palazzo complex, do try this place once!

It was finally time to check-out and drive down to the airport. I had an evening flight to San Francisco where I will get some rest during the weekend before another hectic, meeting-filled week begins in the Bay Area.