26 April 2008

Lunch at Rose’s Café, San Francisco

One of our favorite locales for shopping in San Francisco is on Union Street in Cow Hollow. We usually make a point of going there whenever we’re in The City. Not only are the Cow Hollow shops interesting and unique, but so are the restaurants. The ones we’ve eaten at tend to be very casual and relaxed.

We’ve actually tried to eat at Rose’s Café on several previous occasions. But it seems like it’s always been too busy. After all, if your purpose is serious shopping, you don’t want to waste a half hour waiting for a table to open.

The only thing different on this visit in early March was that we arrived toward the end of the lunch rush. It was still busy, mind you. But we didn’t have to actually wait to get a table. So finally, after walking by on past visits, we got to eat at Rose’s.

It’s easy to see why the place is so popular. The menu is very creative with lots of variety to suit whatever your mood. At lunch they’ve got a wide range of choices including salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas.

We started with a carafe of wine. We selected a Barbera from the Renwood winery. We enjoyed it. There was enough in the carafe for us to sip while we waited for our food and still have some to enjoy with our meal.

I was intrigued by the description of their chicken tarragon sausage with polenta and spicy tomato sauce. I thought it was really tasty. The sausage and the tomato sauce had enough zing to spice up the polenta, which was served soft, like a thick porridge.

My wife was having a hard time deciding. She thought the chopped salad with gorgonzola vinaigrette sounded good. She also thought the roasted chicken sandwich with balsamic onions and herbs sounded too, except she didn’t want it as a sandwich. “No problem,” offered Geoff, our server. “Have the chicken on the salad. A lot of people do that.”

So that’s what she did. It was a great suggestion. (In fact, she said that the salad would have been a little plain without the chicken on it.)

So we had a great lunch, a relaxing interlude from shopping, and finally tried a restaurant that we’ve always wondered about.

Dinner at Fournou’s Ovens, San Francisco

This is kind of a strange review for me to write. On our last night in San Francisco, after lot’s of fun touring Wine Country, shopping in the City, and trying great restaurants, we had a reservation at Fournou’s Ovens, located in the Renaissance Stanford Court on Nob Hill. We had a great meal. But this is the first restaurant I’ve written about knowing that it wouldn’t be around much longer. I’m providing the link. But if you want to eat there, you’d probably better check and see if it’s still open.

First the story, then the review. We picked Fournou’s Ovens for several reasons. It was located close to where we were staying. We knew that Nob Hill is a prestigious neighborhood, so we assumed it would be good (and we also assumed it would be expensive). Most of the reviews we read online were favorable. We could make a reservation using Open Table. And the photos from its web site made it look particularly appealing.

When we arrived, everything was as attractive as we had imagined. The restaurant is down one level from the hotel lobby, and it has a feel of a European cellar restaurant like we’ve enjoyed on some of our trips. A focal point of the décor is a wall of roasting ovens decorated in hand-painted Portuguese porcelain tiles.

Our server, Dimitri, was very good – attentive, but when it was clear that we were not in any rush, he let us relax and leisurely peruse the menu. Over the course of the evening, we made small talk with Dimitri. As we ended our dining experience, somehow he felt compelled to tell us the news. The Stanford Court is scheduled for a complete renovation during 2008. As part of the project, the hotel will put a new restaurant on the lobby level serving Asian fusion food.

As he told us the news, Dimitri gravely informed us that he didn’t know what would happen to the ovens, implying that perhaps they would not be preserved in the renovated hotel. It’s already true that the ovens are purely decorative. They are no longer used for roasting, all of which is done in a contemporary restaurant kitchen out of public view. Perhaps because we showed an interest in his story, perhaps because he simply wants people to preserve the images of the ovens, Dimitri insisted that he take our photo in front of them. He took three. The first two were kind of corny. He had us pose with one of those long-handled utensils that you use to put things into and out of a wood-fired roasting oven. (They look like a weird American Gothic image.) But as we smooched, he snapped one last shot that I like. You can kind of see what the ovens and tiles look like in the background.

We did thoroughly enjoy our meal. I had a classic Caesar salad. My wife had a lobster, apple bisque. Both were very nicely prepared and delicious. While we usually try to order different entrées, this time we both really wanted to have the sea bass. It was pan seared and served with watercress and roasted red bell pepper sauce on a bed of lentils.

I suppose in San Francisco, you can get Mediterranean-inspired American food in any number of restaurants. Maybe you can find it in an equally attractive venue and at more reasonable prices (though I didn’t think that Fournou’s Ovens was particularly expensive. It was a good value for what we got.) I suppose I got caught up in Dimitri’s distress about the future of the restaurant. I feel a little odd recommending a restaurant that may be gone by the end of the year. But if you’re in San Francisco, and if Fournou’s Ovens is still open, you should consider eating there.

23 April 2008

Dinner at Kokkari Estiatorio, San Francisco

When we arrived in San Francisco after touring the Napa Valley, we wanted to try something new and different. Kokkari Estiatorio filled that bill very nicely. It’s Greek cuisine with a heavy emphasis on fish and seafood. The décor is rustic Mediterranean. The service is very friendly and accommodating.

We were shown to our table which turned out to be quite close to another table of two businessmen. Their conversation was quite loud. We considered asking for another table, but decided not to since they seemed to be about finished. Keeping the table worked to our benefit.

As they prepared to leave, we were quizzing our server about a choice for an appetizer. Several sounded tempting. As we discussed the choices, one of our neighbors leaned over, apologized for intruding, but then recommended the roasted Brussels sprouts, mapakia. It was a great recommendation. The Brussels sprouts were roasted in a wood-fired oven with bacon and lemon. They were served very hot, and they were wonderful.

Overall, the menu at Kokkari is very diverse and offers many options. The selection of mezethes (small plates, or Greek tapas) is extensive. You could make a meal by sampling several. We found our server to be very helpful in terms of explaining how the mezethes and entrées were prepared and making recommendations.

One recommendation was a Greek wine. My wife wanted a white, but we weren’t familiar with the ones on the menu. He asked her a few questions about her preferences and then recommended Tselepos Moschofilero Mantinia. It was a wonderful choice. At the end of the meal, he wrote it down for us, even though it’s doubtful we’ll find it available anywhere in Minnesota.

For dinner my wife ordered Makaronia me Horta –ravioli of greens and feta with artichokes and roasted Greek peppers. It was a wonderful meal! The ravioli were tender and tasty. The greens were spread over the ravioli with small clumps of fresh, salty feta cheese. The artichokes were tender but not at all mushy. The roasted peppers added a bright red accent to the plate; they were very flavorful.

My choice was the nightly fish special. That particular night the fish was dorado (mahi-mahi). You can have it either grilled or roasted in a wood oven. I chose wood oven-roasted with

Greek olives, saffron potatoes and wild mushrooms. Our server did an excellent job of deboning it for me. The combination of flavors was fantastic.

As we were finishing up, another couple was seated at the table next to us. With the close quarters, we greeted each other. They asked where we were from. When we said Minnesota, the woman said that she has a close friend from there. It turns out my wife knew her. Small world. We finished paying, gave them our recommendations, and left.