AL’s Place—A Favorite New Spot in SF

Squash salad

AL stands for Aaron London, the young energetic chef of Ubuntu fame (renowned for vegetarian food in Napa Valley). This newly opened San Francisco restaurant on the corner of 26th and Valencia is a standout. Beautifully presented, but in a very noisy, but pristine white environs, AL’s Place seats only forty-six diners. All the dishes we ordered—including meat and fish—were standouts.

London’s confidence and virtuosity with vegetables is no surprise and is reflected in the unusual combinations of fruit and veggies he dreams up. Seafood is peppered in many main dishes, while other meat and fish options are listed as sides. In addition to snackles (small bites) and sides, the menu is divided into cold/cool and warm/hot sections and limited availability items.

We started off with a stunning cold dish of “lightly cured” trout with crispy potato, smashed cucumber, in a bagna cauda sauce (very light garlic and anchovy dip). The Coho salmon trout looked more like sushi than a smoked fish, or perhaps Gravlax: pure, ineffable freshness in a beautiful presentation on top of crispy tomatoes and cucumbers.

In the cold/cool section of the menu we had an unbelievable salad—thinly sliced yellow squash with crushed raspberry/fig oil, burrata and toasted almonds. The presentation is worthy of an artist. Another veggie dish we loved was a generous portion of royal trumpet mushrooms with fava bean mayo, and topped with green peach/pluot relish. What a mix of flavors! On the warm/hot section the stone fruit/albacore curry with black lime marinade, green beans, and a sprinkling of blueberries was a mind-game of ingredients that you would think to be mutually exclusive instead of astoundingly compatible. Going to AL’s Place for this dish alone would be worth the trip.

For sides (don’t let the name fool you), we had the smoked brisket with sieved egg, pickled mire poix, and a faint touch of maple mustard. Brisket is quite trendy now but this one was remarkable. Brisket is not easy to smoke—gristly, fatty, and dry—but this dish had none of those attributes.

In the limited availability menu we had the fish catamaran with a double dip, one of which was a lemony vinaigrette while the other was an incredible miso béarnaise. When the chef stopped by to greet us, we asked how the miso sauce was made and I was exhausted just listening to all the steps involved.

Fish Catamaran--before
Fish Catamaran–Before
Fish Catamaran--
Fish Catamaran–After

We had a sparkling rosé pinot noir (Onward) that was not to our taste so we recommended another one from Carmel to the sommelier. He was inviting and asked for the information, proving he was open to other wine selections. We did like the idea that AL’s Place was experimental in trying lesser-known appellations from all over the world for their wine list, which was very modestly priced.

For nonalcoholic drinks the freshly made watermelon and shiso sparkling soda was perfect—not at all sweet, but refreshing on that warm evening.

I don’t think you can go wrong with AL’s Place—your vegetarian friends will be in Nirvana and we carnivores and pescatarians will have just as good a time. If you are in San Francisco, check out AL’s Place—you won’t be disappointed!

Son of a Gun—On Target

 

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of going to Son of a Gun, a newish West Hollywood restaurant. Small, intimate—when we first drove by, we had to circle the block twice to find it—the food is original and delicious.

We started off with the hamachi with vinaigrette apple and radish sprouts.

Hamachi with Apples, Sprouts and Vinaigrette
Hamachi with Apples, Sprouts and Vinaigrette

Sashimi-grade yellow-fin tuna with tart apples and a light splash of rice-vinegar dressing and a sprinkling of green spouts. This precious appetizer deserves a shout-out. Next, we had the steelhead roe which was good, but not memorable, the uni with burrata and yuzu didn’t knock our socks off, and the huge mound of yellowfin tuna with avocado was just bizarre. So, stick with the hamachi!

For the entrees and small plates, we had the lobster roll—very tiny but melt-in-your-mouth delicious so we ordered two. The shrimp toast that is highly praised on Yelp as one of Son of a Gun’s best appetizers is just too deep-fried for our taste, so we would pass on it next time. The linguine with clams with an uni olio was delicious as was the cucumber salad with two kinds of cucumbers (fresh and pickled) on a delicious bed of mizuna and tiny cherry tomatoes laced with a citrusy yuzu dressing. We could have eaten another one of those.

Cucumber Tomato Salad
Cucumber Tomato Salad

The special of the night was sea bass in a Vietnamese pho-style broth but no rice or noodles, just delicious bok choy and greens with lots of cilantro. A real winner.

The towering fried chicken sandwich (one of their signature dishes) also was just too much fried batter but the pickled cole slaw balanced the oil nicely. The hamachi collar on beans and mustard greens was original and tasty.

Fried Chicken sandwich with cole slaw
Fried Chicken sandwich with cole slaw

On first reading, you might think this is a mixed review and that Son of a Gun is not a keeper. But their startlingly good dishes that we loved, we really loved and will go back for those again! For those of you who do love deep fried foods my critique of those dishes may not apply to your palate.

Go visit Son of a Gun and enjoy the ambience—the maritime, old-fashioned theme reminiscent of a small seafood restaurant you might find in Cape Cod or Boston neighborhoods. We’re going back!

 

Aldea—“An Epicurean Hamlet”

 

Aldea drama
Aldea drama

We ate at the fabulous Aldea, a Michelin star restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood, and for those of you who are going to be in New York City, this is our new gourmet discovery. Aldea means “village” or “hamlet” in Spanish and is a blend of Portuguese and Spanish small plates. Chef Mendes’s menu is eclectic, highly original, and mixes a smattering of popular Asian ingredients with his Iberian-influenced dishes.

Sardines
Sardines
Citrus Radish Salad
Citrus Radish Salad

The Aldea restaurant menu includes a variety of shellfish, various preparations of salt-cod, or bacalao, rice dishes and Iberian-cured hams and suckling pig. One of the knockout appetizers is a sea urchin toast with cauliflower puree and shiso leaves. It seems like a strange combination to anyone who is used to uni and shiso as sushi items only. But the combination of the salty creaminess of the sea urchin with the starchy vegetable cream of the cauliflower is sublime, with a splash of lime and sprinkle of mustard seed. Definitely one of our favorites! We followed it with deliciously fresh Irish point oysters mignonette. The next small plate, a citrus and radish salad, looked quite beautiful with multicolored radishes, marcona almonds, goat cheese, and trout caviar. But the textures were missing something—maybe a bit of frisée and more zest, perhaps a bit of kumquat? Next we shared a plate of charred sardines with hazelnut, benne seed, orange zest before the main entrée of Suckling pig and Manila clams, with pea sprouts, preserved lemons, burnt bread (crisped up with butter and garlic)– savory and cooked to perfection. Because we could not think of ending with a rich dessert, however tempting, we ordered the artisanal cheese plate (rather expensive at $19 for a small plate): Valdeon (Cow and Goat, Asturias, Spain),  Zimbro (raw sheep, Portugal), served with quince marmalade &cranberry-walnut toast. The cranberry-walnut toast was to delicious we asked for some more take back to our hotel. Dark chocolate truffles were complimentary! The bottle of 2012 Barranco Oscuro Brut from Andalucia, Spain was dry and wonderful, and reasonably priced.

Suckling Pig
Suckling Pig

 

Aldea is a keeper—beautifully prepared food that would be difficult to find anywhere else. The surroundings and décor are as aesthetically pleasing as the food is. The double-height ceiling invites you in, with a freestanding bar framed in concrete and illuminated wood paneling. We sat at the chef’s bar so we could observe the culinary theater in the small kitchen and watch the preparation of the secret ingredients of each dish by a staff of at least ten. We will be back to this restaurant and hope that many of you will also have a chance to experience this delightful foodie’s paradise.

“Home on the Range…with Frances”

 

We had the good fortune recently to celebrate the culinary fare at two popular San Francisco restaurants, Frances (3870 17th Street) and Range (842 Valencia Street). Both had imaginative menus and we felt so lucky being able to reserve a table on a weekend night.

Friday night we dined at Frances, a very small elegant restaurant, not too formal and not pretentious. The key for us is to test the chef’s skills with their small plates. So, we started with bouchées, as distinguished from appetizers. Our party shared the caramelized cipollini onion tart with dates and whipped blue cheese, and the grilled beet salad with toasted pistachios in a fresh horseradish dressing. While tantalizing to the eye—the tart was very tiny and the salad did not meet our high expectations. For appetizers, Frances upped their game with linguine & charred broccolini in a subtle anchovy garlic confît and the spinach and green garlic soup with spring onions and bits of parmesan. The linguine was homemade, and the garlic soup was definitely a winner—not overly creamy but with a delightful blend of vegetables and mild green garlic.

Creamy Garlic Soup
Creamy Garlic Soup

The entrees– Sonoma duck breast with farro, dried mission figs, capers,  and walnuts and American red snapper  with caramelized cauliflower in a black garlic pistachio cream were delicious and the duck breast was one of the best we have ever had. The fish was a bit overcooked and bland to our taste, but was prepared well for those who prefer very mild flavors. To us the fish looked more beautiful than it tasted. We ordered a side dish of charred radishes and baby turnips, brown butter, caraway and dill, that on their own were a sort of sad vegetables and we would not order it again.

For dessert, Frances’s signature Lumberjack cake of Fuji apple, coconut, and dates, with Muscovado ice cream that tasted like a very rich fruit bread, dense and spicy. We liked it but couldn’t say we loved it.

Saturday night we experienced the Range, a livelier ambience with narrow dining rooms,  and started with a large steaming bowl of manila clams with spicy fennel sausage in a savory broth soaked in garlic toast. There wasn’t a drop left. Our entrees were olive oil poached Alaskan cod with artichokes, spring peas, Meyer lemon and arugula-pistachio pistou in a very light broth, California rainbow trout with melted brussels sprouts, black trumpet mushrooms, freekeh-encrusted with a green peppercorn sauce, and their renowned coffee-rubbed pork shoulder with creamy hominy and collard greens. All three were so good we couldn’t decide which we liked the best. And, because we are gluttons, we ordered the decadent chocolate peanut butter mousse cake with honeyed peanuts and salted caramel cream. One dessert like that is a killer—three spoons finished off a memorable meal!

 

Trout @ Range
Trout @ Range

So, gentle readers, I think if I had only one evening in San Francisco then Range is where I would want to eat a dinner away from home. However, if you are in the mood for duck, it would be very difficult to match Frances—even in Paris, I do not think their duck can compare!

 

 

FWD—Fishing with Dynamite

Hamachi
Hamachi

I first learned about this restaurant in Manhattan Beach (Los Angeles) in a January 22, 2014 New York Times review. It is amazing that such a tiny restaurant in a beachy little neighborhood received coverage from the premier East Coast cognoscenti.

First and foremost, Fishing with Dynamite is a knockout—East Coast meets West Coast for superb service either at the tiny bar (where we loved sitting) or at a table. The place is lively and even the manager chatted with us, offering his views on this new restaurant’s mission and philosophy in a down-to-earth manner. I really expected it to be good but not phenomenal, a kind rather than an accurate review for a novelty venue.

Seabass
Seabass

 

The menu is divided into Old School and New School with all the expected offerings on the Old School side: New England clam chowder, Maryland blue crab cakes, steamed clams. But the New School—OMG!! Grilled octopus with cranberry beans, a date-tomato ragu, and preserved lemon/olive tapenade. Then hamachi with avocado, serrano, and apple pear ponzu. The grilled sword fish was served with yellow peaches, fennel, capers and mint. Yum, yum and did I mention the oyster sampler platter —and you can name the six oysters so we ordered the small extra sweet ones: kushi, pacific gold, and I forgot the name of the other petite one our waiter suggested. All extraordinary with two sauces: mignonette with a zest of citrus with either sriracha or tapatio as well as a fabulous non-classical ponzu sauce.

The chef, David Lefevre, worked with the famous Charlie Trotter of Chicago fame for ten years before running the fabulous Water Grill in downtown Los Angeles. Now the Water Grill has lost him to Fishing with Dynamite.  Served with a lighthearted flair—we didn’t try the “Mother shucker”, the wine is also served in two glass sizes: 3 oz and 6 oz and the selection is superb, especially for such a tiny bit of heaven. Dynamite indeed!

Make a reservation at Fishing with Dynamite,  1148 Manhattan Avenue, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266   tel.  (310) 893-6299

 

La Balena—A whale of a meal

La Balena

For a town like Carmel, it is exciting to find a restaurant that can really rival a good one in San Francisco.  I think La Balena nails it!

We started off with Polpo Grigliato (grilled octopus with potatoes, anchovy aioli, lemon and parsley).   I have to confess that I am obsessed with this cephalopod. If octopus is on the menu, I have to try it. This is one of their signature antipasti, theirs is a bit salty but having said that, I would still order it again and let them know to be cautious with the salt. Others obviously like the polpo just the way it is.

Then we had the Delicata salad: warm chicory greens, squash, pancetta, persimmon, with a splash of pomegranate and sprinkle of pecorino. A salad is truly difficult to pull off—and this one does not disappoint. More a chopped salad than a tossed one, this was an outstanding blend of the crispest artisanal greens and veggies, the perfectly blended vinaigrette– a definite must! For our main course, we shared a pasta dish: Pappardelle with a wild boar and pancetta sauce. Homemade tender pasta with the most amazing sauce of succulent boar in a rich, dark tomato-based sauce.  The portions are huge, so sharing one entrée was perfect.

We’ll be back—and next time I want to try the bruschetta of burrata and basil, ribollita (a white-bean soup with torn bread and parmesan), and the whole sea bass with buttered artichokes. Our friends had those dishes and we tasted them. Yummy!

I don’t think you can go wrong no matter what you decide to order from this new Tuscan restaurant. And watch for their complimentary wine tastings with apps during the summer season!

TBD–Totally Beautiful Dinner

IMG_2516-2The second San Francisco restaurant in SoMa from the entrepreneurs, Matt Semmelhack and chef Mark Liberman, TBD –“To Be Determined”– serves a very different menu from AQ (their first restaurant located next door). The menu focuses on wood-fired small plates, mostly served in cast iron pans, prepared on a custom hearth and grill in an open kitchen in a more casual setting than AQ.

Each dish was amazing. We started with warm Josey Baker bread with corn, cotijo and espelette, followed by a beet salad with grapes and walnuts just touched by a subtle fresh horseradish.

 

Beet salad with some bites taken out
Beet salad with some bites taken out

Then the heartier plates arrived: arepa (duck) with tomatillo, apples and manchego, roasted sunchokes in a red brick mole and grilled leg of lamb with carrot and mint (both part of the three-dish prix fixe menu), honey glazed brussel sprouts, octopus ceviche with lime and avocado served over a very light bed of hashed brown potatoes, and finally a shared desert included in the prix fixe selection–the lightest, fluffiest doughnuts resembling beignets and more than enough for the three of us.   All the dishes were amazing and made with loving attention to detail, encapsulating all the flavor a recipe could possibly have!

 

Grilled octopus
Grilled octopus

Moderately priced New American fare, TBD has totally beautiful dinners with a reasonable wine and beer list. (We had a delightful bottle of dry sauvignon blanc by Bodkin of Lake County.) As the acronym TBD connotes, the flavor and style of this restaurant is constantly evolving with an original menu, seasonal and artisanal freshness, and a culinary philosophy emphasizing experimentation!

 

For reservations–TBD, 1077 Mission Street, SF tel. 415-431-1826.

 

 

 

 

Hi from Ojai!

Ojai

We are always looking for a mini-vacation no more than four or five hours drive from Monterey. Several weeks ago we had the wonderful experience of staying at the historic Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, a glorious oasis directly east of Ventura. The wonderful climate of the Ojai Valley draws celebrities and regular folk to  rejuvenate their health in a sanctuary of tranquility at the spa or on the vast grounds where tropical birds in large cages talk to you in hilarious repetitions of whatever you say.

The trails –especially the Pratt Loop–are easy and long, with sweeping vistas of the valley below.  Along the well-maintained trails we picked avocadoes and oranges that drooped  from orchards nearby. Surrounded by hills and mountains, the Ojai Valley Inn celebrates the “Pink Moment” when the sunset casts a pink glow onto the hillside for all to enjoy while drinking a glass of wine from one of the Ojai Valley vineyards.

Although we were at the Inn during the “low season” the concierge service was truly imaginative and helpful.  We were able to take an acrylic painting class at the dedicated “Artist Cottage”.  Ojai does indeed nurture its art and artists with the  Ojai Center for the Arts, downtown galleries featuring both local and international artists, Ojai Studio Artists Tour and Art in the Park. Artist Cottage

A combination of art and wine can be seen on the  side streets and fine restaurants are scattered throughout.   In addition, there are many annual events like the Ojai Film Festival,  a cineaste’s destination (every November).

One of our most enjoyable activities was a private cooking class arranged through PalatePro in the back kitchen of Azu, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  We were lucky to be their first students. Chef Chris supervised our preparation of dates wrapped in bacon and stuffed with chorizo, brie drizzled with honey,  sautéed scallops with lemon and capers, spicy mussels,  kale Caesar salad with polenta croutons, filet tacos, and a pear tart all served in a private dining room. I’ll be posting some food photos soon! Azu was a blast.   Keep that in mind in light of my warning below.  I highly recommend Ojai as a retreat away from home, so close and yet a world away!  One note of caution:  Do NOT go to the hotel restaurant at the Ojai Valley Inn when the chef has his days off (Mondays and Tuesdays).  The food was terrible!

 

Mezcla–Mixing It Up South American Style

Mezcla

We had the pleasure of discovering this Nuevo Latino fusion restaurant on a recent trip to Montreal.  A mixture of Latino cultures, mainly Peruvian but even a dash of Chinese, made for an unforgettable experience:  a delight both visual and palatable.  Located off St. Catherine Street in what is called Gay Village or simply Le Village, this unassuming restaurant is a wonderful culinary experiment in originality.A  small bistro with no more than 20 small tables and  a lively bar in the middle, Mezcla caters to a late evening clientele. We arrived late but the dishes on the blackboard– the specials for the evening–were still mostly available. Even at 9:30  Mezcla was almost full.

The amuse bouche was a delightful small bit of duck liver in an aioli that was tinged with jalapeno and a slightly sweet aftertaste, perhaps maple syrup.  Quite an excellent start to a superb meal, a surprise little fugue before the main concert.Mezcla2

 

The first dish came sizzling hot: octopus served in a small cast iron pan,  placed on top of carmelized yucca with a splash of maple syrup, something we found rather unique not only to Montreal cuisine but also Vermont.

Our entrees were the braised bison short ribs served with parsnips and mushrooms in a demiglaze and crispy duck with foie gras (arepitos de pato y foie gras) with a soy glaze topped with  a sprinkle of watercress sprouts on Chinese steamed buns.

All wines were reasonably priced, including a rose cava, which is rather difficult to find in the States. This menu takes the imagination to new heights making the Nuevo Latino more accentuated on the “Nuevo” for its unbelievably  unique experimentation of flavors, mixing up the cuisines south of the border with those from around the globe.  Hope you get to try Mezcla in the future, a delightful gourmet adventure!

 

Michael’s on the Hill–A Green Restaurant in the Green Mountain State

Michaels

We were delighted to dine at Michael’s on the Hill last week while we were on the East Coast.  Located in Waterbury (on the Stowe, Vermont border), this small restaurant in a charming turn-of-the-19th century farmhouse captivated us from the moment we sat down.  Their vegetable garden provides some of the produce for the menu, emphasizing the farmer-chef connection, aka farm-to-table.

The ambience is eclectic:  New England antiques with bold black and white woodcuts (3’x 4′ prints) on several walls in a dining room with  dark wood beams and molding. The menu changes seasonally as expected from a restaurant that was the first certified Green restaurant in the Green Mountain state.

I started with the crispy Rhode Island calamari with frisée, reggiano and capers, which was a knockout.  The calamari were sautéed–not until crispy– in a very light batter, more like a dusting of color than anything else.  What made this salad so unusual is that the olive oil from the calamari was the only oil provided for the salad.  A strong zesty lemon and light touch of balsamic completed the dressing, making the salad light and extraordinary. Next was a Maine crab cake with fennel, basil and roasted corn purée.  We have had lots of crab cakes in our foodie years, but this one was original .

For our main courses I had the herb butter poached Maine lobster with celery root gratin, braised leeks and truffles.  It was served in a small cast iron skillet, piping hot.  The syrupy vegetables, cooked until carmelized, made the lobster an incredible dish, not the usual drawn lemon and butter.  I suspected that there was a dash of the maple syrup Vermont is famous for splashed on the vegetables. I shared this dish with my husband’s cornmeal crusted Mountain Foot farm trout with herbed polenta and apples meunière.  The trout had a lovely crispy skin but I felt the apples detracted from the richness of the polenta and the unique delicate taste of the trout.  I still would order the dish, just putting the apples to the side.

And for dessert we had an incredible selection of artisanal cheeses, fruit preserves and slices of apple, melon, and champagne grapes to finish the perfect introduction to the best Vermont has to offer.   The wine list had wines we had not heard of and the local bread was so delicious I wanted to take some home.  Chef Michael Kloeti, Swiss-born and trained, and his wife Laura knock it out of the park with this superb Wine Spectator award-winning restaurant!

 

Wakuriya–A Little Bit of Kyoto Heaven

Sake flight
Sake flight

Last week we experienced kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) at a tiny tucked-away restaurant in a strip mall in San Mateo–Wakuriya.  What a surprise find!

Kaiseki cuisine is as much an art form as a type of gourmet dinner. Not unexpectedly, kaiseki has its origin in Zen monastic cuisine and aesthetic taste. Leaves and fresh flowers, often edible, suggest animals and seasonal variations in the moon and night sky.

Passing through a long draped noren curtain, we opened the artisan wooden door, and stepped into a long narrow restaurant dimly lit and minimalist in decor.  The ambience conveys the most elegant of Kyoto restaurants, taking you to another locale far from San Carlos. Seating only 16 diners (either at 6:30 or 7:30),   Wakuriya offers a pre-fixe classical menu of  nine dishes, focused on local seasonal ingredients. (Complete monthly menu is available online.)

Kobe beef, squid with asparagus, snapper sashimi
Kobe beef, squid with asparagus, snapper sashimi

Chef Katsuhiro Yamasaki and his wife prepare and serve the exceptional menu as if you were guests at a private dinner party. Every dish was a photo-op. I was in love at first sight with the very first bite!   Chef Yamasaki prepares every small plate in a precise and impeccable manner, and service is perfectly timed. Each piece of porcelain, lacquerware or glass–even the lotus root coasters–are unique and exquisite.  The play between the plate and the food instantly conveyed a sense of spring and Mrs. Yamasaki patiently explained the meaning of the aesthetics.

Tuna sashimi with fava
Tuna sashimi with fava

The first sake served was a house exclusive– infused with a touch of honey.  A superb sake selection was offered, including flights of unusual citrus-flavored sakes and even one effervescent one!  The starter courses included a maguro tartar of beautiful tuna sashimi over sushi rice with the tiniest dollop of wasabi matched in color by a scattering of small fava beans; a selection of Kobe beef with baby squid, asparagus and pickled cod caviar and snapper sashimi with salmon roe; an astonishing color burst of chawan-mushi (traditional yellow egg custard) overlaid with a green pea-sprout puree and filled with snow crab and shiitake mushrooms.  And that was only the beginning!  Six more courses including a deep fried scallop/sea -urchin croquette, plum-lemon sorbet palate cleanser, grilled black cod, and a choice of either pork donburi or red snapper chazuke made all four of us feel there was no room for dessert.  But the white sesame mousse with strawberry gel actually was the perfect, final flourish to a remarkable meal!

Kaiseki is often very expensive because of the labor and care that goes into each tiny dish.  Yet we found Wakuriya’s price per diner ($95 without tip and sake) to be fair and justified.  Reservations are difficult, so plan to call immediately after midnight exactly 30 days before your desired date and leave a message.  Mrs. Yamasaki will call you back the next day–we felt like we had won the lottery!   Special requests need to be made about four days in advance–for gluten-free, no red meat, etc., but I think Wakuriya is at its best if you can eat the meal as originally designed in classical Japanese taste.

 

Bottega Louie–A Mega Bottega

Bottega Louie opened in 2009 in downtown Los Angeles and is in good company with some of the finest restaurants in the area.   The 10,000-square-foot paean to the good life is more than a marble and brass palatial restaurant/gourmet market/patisserie with 20-foot ceilings.

No detail has been overlooked. More than three years under construction, Bottega Louie also has a European style bakery and about 200 employees. The bakery creates 800 pastries a day and is a destination throughout the city for its pastel-colored macaroons.  In addition there is a counter devoted to 20 kinds of breads and  a brick oven churning out pizzas for takeout. It is a crazy place–exuberant and boisterous–and all the time we had to turn our backs to the sumptuous patisserie for fear of ruining our appetites.

After a ten minute wait to get a table (not bad!),  we selected from the Sunday brunch menu, starting off with two appetizers:  prosciutto and burrata (since we are burrata bingers),  a delicate dish with basil and olive oil drizzled on top, nested on a crispy potato pancake.

Portobello Fries and Sliders

And then their famous portobello fries. Forget the mantra about no fried foods.  These were absolutely (and mysteriously) greaseless, in a light flaky batter subtly spiced with rosemary and served with a very small cup of aioli so we couldn’t overdo the fat content. We cannot figure out how to duplicate this dish–mushrooms absorb everything so they should have been limp and soggy with oil, instead of erect and crispy.

For our main dishes we had a salmon millefeuille, delectable smoked salmon with crème fraîche, layered on thin sheets of puff pastry, similar to spanokopita.  A wonderful dance of flavors and colors.

One of my favorite sandwiches is meatball parmesan and the restaurant’s interpretation is a plate of three sliders, each with fresh gooey mozzarella and a light tomato sauce on each giant meatball.

 

We like to finish with a light veggie or salad dish and chose the Mache,  a green salad of frisée, bay leaf-brined roasted chicken, avocado, celery, scallions, julienned snap peas, Meyer lemon & extra virgin olive oil.  A delicious, super fresh collage of greens with wonderful textures and crunch.

The next day we ordered out a burrata pizza– thin wood-oven baked crust with creamy burrata cheese, prosciutto, and kale,   Bottega Louie has been ranked the #1 pizza place by many food websites, often neck-and-neck with Osteria Mozza (see my last post).  I don’t think you can go wrong with this restaurant! So, for all those of you in the downtown area or just wishing to explore, this is a great find!

A word of warning:  Reservations are not taken, but people-watching is entertainment in itself and makes the time pass quickly ogling fashionistas and more unusually-dressed attention-seekers.  Now next time I simply must taste the macaroons!