Friday, August 27, 2010

Back To Old Favorites

Bahn Ham at The Slanted DoorAmerican cities were designed with the assumption that everyone has a car. So much so, I suspect the car industry had an hand in city planning in this country. There are a few exceptions though: New York City and San Francisco being two that immediately come to mind. San Francisco is best appreciated when you walk around its downtown and waterfront areas.

In the few days I spend here during my frequent visits to this city, I rarely take a taxi to get to a restaurant. Which limits my options, but given the number of dining choices this city has, it isn't much of a problem.

The Slanted DoorI was back again at The Slanted Door for lunch one Sunday morning. It was August 15th, Independence Day in India. I had stayed propped up in bed with my iPad late into the morning watching episodes of The Gates. I noticed the Farmers' Market wasn't open today for some reason. As always, there was a long line waiting for tables at the Hog Island Oyster Co.

I ordered a glass of German Riesling and Bahn Nam. The steaming hot rice dumplings with pork and dried shrimp is wrapped in banana leaf before being steamed. Very slippery stuff that took some effort in getting to my mouth with chopsticks!

Flank Steak with noodles at The Slanted DoorThe Niman ranch flank steak with rice noodles was quite fantastic. The taste and feel of crushed peanuts went well with the excellently seasoned meat.

I ended with a Midnight Cake before walking back in the cool wind blowing in from the water.

Midnight Cake at The Slanted DoorOn another night, I slipped into Annabelle's Bistro, right next to my hotel. The hearty beef barley soup with carrots and peas felt good, especially since the evening had gotten a little cold.

Beef Barley Soup at Annabelle's BistroThe King Salmon on a bed of Romaine lettuce, pimenta cake and sundried tomatoes was reasonably good. I realized I had left my wallet behind and had to run to my hotel so I could pay them!

Salmon at Annabelle's BistroI made trips to Roy's Hawaiian Fusion, Osha and Chez Papa Resto too during the week. Great places for quick lunches all of them if you are in the SoMa area. Also, discovered a good Indian restaurant in Burlingame, Roti. Very good sheek kababs, roti, and dal. And a decent wine list too.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Masa's in San Francisco

Masa's San FranciscoMasa's made me wistful. This restaurant was considered the epitome of culinary excellence during its hey days. The story began when Chef Masataka 'Masa' Kobayashi of Auberge du Soleil in California’s Napa Valley was persuaded to headline his own restaurant in San Francisco, utilizing his exceptional talent for French cuisine. His namesake, Masa’s, opened in 1983 and became an instant success. Since his death a series of talented chefs have manned the stoves here. Sadly, the glory seems faded now and certainly not because of the food. I can say that Chef Gregory Short is immensely talented. And yet the restaurant was only sparsely populated on a Friday evening. It could be that formal French dining is no longer in vogue; casual chic seems to be the flavor of the day now.

Masa's is located on the edge of the Union Square and Nob Hill Areas. Walking down from Union Square, I walked through the tunnel before realizing there is a whole town above that is accessed by the stairs going up. Pretty interesting place with steep roads going up and down. The restaurant itself is done up in red and gold which may seem a bit heavy to some, but I liked it - a very classic French feel.

Salmon Amuse at Masa'sI settled for the chef's seven course tasting menu as I nibbled on French breads. They quickly brought me an amuse of salmon, fennel and garlic that was quite interesting.

Caviar at Masa'sThe first course was Black Sea farmed Golden Osetra. The caviar was served on a melon bavarian cream and sharlyn melon gelee, and was exquisite. The crab salad, with summer melon, pickled red jalapeno, baby mizuna was served with brioche toast and was interesting on the palate too.

Crab salad at Masa'sThen came the chilled Maine Lobster with roasted red beets, poached German butterball potatoes, summer truffles, garden mache and beet vinaigrette. Completely delectable! The warm muskiness of the truffle added more than a hint of the exotic to this dish.

Chilled Lobster at Masa'sNext was the sauteed Squab breast. Woohoo, my first pigeon! Yes, my friend, squab is a fancy name for pigeon meat. I was surprised by how nice and succulent the meat was. Apparently, the trick is to serve rare-medium; any more heat dries it up.

Squab at Masa'sMy tongue was already orgasming at this point! Then comes the seared rare medallion of Milbrook farms Venison. The deer was served with a gravenstein apple roesti, a horseradish cream fraiche, apple salad and black peppercorn sauce. The meat was so very soft, tasty and completely amazing.

Venison at Masa'sFinally, came the artisan cheese selection. I picked a cow milk cheese from a French farm, a hard goat cheese from Italy and a very ripe variety made of cow's milk in an Italian farm.

Artisan cheese at Masa's
They gave me a shot glass of fruity sorbet as a palate cleaner before bringing me my dessert. The dessert was a Patterson apricot-almond Pavlova with chamomile apricot, frozen vanilla straus yogurt, creme chantilly and apricot-muscat soup. They brought out a selection of petit-fours as I settled the bill. Whew! That was some dinner.

Fruity palate cleanser at Masa's
Pavlova at Masa's
Petit Fours at Masa'sAfter that perfect dinner, I walked out into a pleasantly cool evening. The neon signs and the skyscapers in the Union Square area were brightly lit all around. This area is a strange mix of the upscale, the touristy and the sleazy: hotels such as the Grand Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton rub shoulders with massage parlours equipped with video cameras and iron grilles. However, this is still a great place to take a leisurely stroll in the evening watching all the people milling around.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Resort At The Golden Gate

Cavallo Point Lodge at the Golden GateThe Golden Gate has long been the most famous landmark of the city of San Francisco. And for good reason: the sight of the bridge as it catches the sunlight with the sights of the Bay and the city behind is indeed a sight to behold. And there isn't a better way to appreciate this iconic bridge and its pretty surroundings than Cavallo Point. A new resort that is set right on the hillside on the Sausalito end of the bridge.

Cavallo Point is built at the site of a historic US Army post, Fort Baker. Restored historic building that were once officers quarters are combined with contemporary lodges into a set of luxurious living spaces vacationing couples and families. Cavallo Point is also home to the Michelin starred restaurant, Murray Circle.

Cavallo Point Lodge
Cavallo Point LodgeThe Golden Gate national parks adjoining the resort provides ample trekking, hiking and biking opportunities for those who enjoy outdoor activities. There is an interest hike that takes you right under the imposing Golden Gate bridge. For those who would rather relax indoors, the rooms are fantastic with real fireplaces and the spa has a variety of options to choose from including such exotica as acupuncture treatments (if your idea of a vacation is sticking needles into yourself!).

Cavallo Point Lodge
Cavallo Point Lodge
Cavallo Point Lodge
Cavallo Point Lodge
Cavallo Point LodgeDuring the two days I spent here, I was locked up with other colleagues in intense day-long meetings. However, the early mornings and late evening views were fantastic. The open grounds and the soaring hillside behind makes this the perfect spot for a weekend vacation.

Cavallo Point LodgeMurray Circle was elegant yet comfortable and accented with beautifully restored tin ceilings, fine art photography and toasty fireplaces. You can choose to soak up the sun on the historic porch with sweeping views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Led by executive chef Joseph Humphrey, this restaurant focuses on Bay Area cuisine and showcases the bounty of local farms, ranches and culinary artisans. Prior to Murray Circle, Chef Joseph Humphrey was the chef at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley which garnered two Michelin Stars. He has also worked at some other restaurants I frequent such as One Market and Fifth Floor.

Murray Circle RestaurantWe began with a Sweet Pea Gazpacho with serrano chile and citrus ice. I love cold soups and this one provided the right start. The slivers of tangy ice brought a soothing tingle on the palate.

Sweet Pea Gazpacho at Murray CircleNext came the Young Lettuces, a salad mixed with fruits, vegetables and herbs in a delightful medley.

Young Lettuces at Murray CircleThe main course of Grass Fed Beef brought the dining experience to its crescendo. This dish was wonderfully put together with the soft, tender meat combined nicely with twice baked potato souffle, carrots in 'soil', wood roasted maitake mushrooms and horseradish.

Grass Fed Beef at Murray CircleDessert was a caramel creme brulee with white chocolate semifreddo and chicory ice-cream. Unfortunately, the pictures I took don't do justice to the food we ate that night. Hopefully, I will be back again, this time for a short vacation instead of business.

Cream Brulee at Murray CircleWe continued late into the night and were the last out of the restaurant. With so much wine flowing, conversation had turned pretty wild. The cool breeze was refreshing and nice as we walked back to our rooms with the city lights blinking in the distance, a starry sky overhead, and the majestic bridge looming ahead of us.

Farley Bar at Cavallo PointInteresting trivia: the Cavallo Point area is also the location of Starfleet Headquarters in the Star Trek world.

PS: List of Bay Area Michelin Star restaurants here.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Emirates vs. Singapore Airlines

Emirates Cabin CrewNow that I have travelled multiple times by Emirates, here are my views on this airline compared with my favorite, Singapore Airlines. As frequent flyers from India to the United States would have noticed, Emirates now has a good set of connections to the USA. My observations are based on business-class travel by these airlines.

In the 2010 Skytrax World Airline Awards, Singapore Airlines came at #2 while Emirates was at #8 (Korea's Asiana Airlines was on the top). Singapore Airlines was among the top three in best business class experience and at the top spot in quality of service by its cabin staff, while Emirates was voted the best in in-flight entertainment (Singapore Airlines came a close second).

Singapore Airline Cabin Crew
Singapore Airlines Business Class seatMy own experience closely reflects the rankings. While Singapore Airlines flies a young fleet, Emirates has aircraft that are clearly newer. Singapore Airlines' business class cabin continues to be best-in-class in terms of overall personal space and seat comfort. Emirates has some cool technology such as electrically operated window-blinds, wireless controller for the entertainment system, and external camera feeds that lets you look out in the front and below the aircraft at any time. However, Singapore Airlines has more storage space for my iPad, Bose headset and a padded holder for my glasses - something I find very useful! Both cabins have 110V outlets for powering your laptops.

Emirates provides a 'real' duvet in pristine white, more comfortable than SA's version which is built into the seat. Emirates also has a electric massage system built into its seat. However, like I pointed out earlier, space matters more than these things in a long flight, and SA's four seats in a row configuration affords substantially more room that Emirates' five-in-a-row. Every business class seat in SA is an aisle seat.

Emirates Business Class SeatsThe dining experience in Singapore Airlines is far superior! Their menu is more elaborate, I love their satays and their drinks and dinner service much more efficient and customer-oriented. Their cabin staff is always courteous and responsive. Emirates is a little spotty in all of these counts. My recent flight had a good cabin service team, but the one before that was very indifferent, unprofessional and spent time chatting rather than attend to passengers.

Emirates Business Class Windows
Emirates Airlines Cabin CrewFinally, the airports. Changi was again voted the best airport, and I have to say it has a clear edge over Dubai. The lounge at Changi is well-laid out with shower rooms and a variety of food and drinks at all times. Emirates has a very large lounge but is always too crowded like the rest of the airport. Food is aplenty here too, but there are no amenities in the toilets and neither do they have shower rooms. Both airports provide free WiFi in their lounges. One thing I must point out: Emirates has the best lounge in Mumbai airport! SA doesn't have a lounge here and passengers much use Lufthansa's.

Singapore Girls!Bottomline, Singapore Airlines is still the best and there is no beating the Singapore girl! However, if Emirates gets its act together in terms of customer service, they can be a close second especially given their good routings to multiple cities in the USA.

Update: One thing I forgot to mention are the amenity kits. Singapore Airlines does not provide an amenity kit to Business Class passengers. They only give you a pair of socks and eye-shades. However, the bathrooms are stocked with good quality shaving kits, dental kits, etc. Emirates on the other hand give you a very elaborate amenity kit with Bvlgari lotions, aftershaves, hi-end shaving and dental kits in a very good-looking bag - I haven't seen a better one being handed out by any other airline. They even have different ones for men and women.

Photos courtesy: Jose Fernandes, Sumaya Al Bishari, Flick Wick and Doc Advert.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Luxuriously Green

ITC Royal GardeniaThe ITC Royal Gardenia in Bangalore was a pleasant surprise. While the hotel has played up its green credentials in their marketing campaigns, they didn't say much about the other delights that make a visit there quite memorable. The open airy atrium, the vertical gardens in the lobby and the nicely appointed rooms are a treat for the senses.

A girl decked up in a gorgeous sari recieved me and draped a silk scarf around me in a traditional welcome from the city's royal past. The hotel itself is located quite close to UB City and the 125-year old Bangalore Club. My room was very well appointed and equipped with the latest electronics including a single console to control everything from lighting to the telephone.

Cubbon Pavillion at ITC Royal GardeniaService quality was very good (like most ITC hotels) but I still hold the Oberoi as the epitome of service in India. What stood out was the quality of their restaurants. While ITC's branded restaurants are present in most of their hotels, the food and service quality can vary. My experience at Kababs & Kurries here was very good, enough to forgive the lapses in quality during my last visit to its namesake at the Grand Central Mumbai.

Kababs and Kurries at ITC Royal Gardenia
Highland Nectar at ITC Royal GardeniaThe Chooze Ki Biryani is made of whole spring chicken marinated in yogurt, saffron and green herbs that is cooked in basmati rice and finished on dum. The Patthar Ke Gosht is deccan style lamb escalopes in traditional spices. Fantastic stuff! A few glasses of Glenlivet at the Highland Nectar bar before dinner will keep all thoughts associated with calories and cholesterol far away. Drop in if you love single malts - they have quite an extensive menu.

ITC Royal GardeniaI tried Cubbon Pavillion during breakfast and lunch. They have an extensive menu that includes North Indian, South Indian, Continental and Oriental options, even a live counter. Overall a great experience!

West View Grill at ITC Royal Gardenia
West View Grill at ITC Royal Gardenia
Finally, West View their western-style grill. They continue to retain the all-girls tradition in this one as well. However, while I loved their creative and artfully presented hors d'euvres, the robust seafood soup and the desserts, the main course comprising of grilled meats and seafood fell somewhat short of expectations. The meats were not tender enough or seasoned sufficiently to bring out the flavors, even though I found the seafood satisfying. The quail was passable and the chorizo sausage the best thing on my plate!

West View Grill at ITC Royal Gardenia
West View Grill at ITC Royal Gardenia
West View Grill at ITC Royal GardeniaAll in all, the ITC Royal Gardenia is among the best places to stay in Bangalore. Even more impressive is their environmental credentials. Leeds Platinum rating, carbon positive, water positive among other things. Proof that green and luxury can go hand in hand. And if you have the time, I would recommend Kaya Kalp their spa for an instant recharge!