Saturday, December 25, 2010

N'ombra de Vin Milan: Milan, Italy

Date:  8 decembre 2010
Location:  Via San Marco, 2
20121 Milan, Italy

This is the perfect spot for a wine afficionado!  You enter into a small cafe resembling that of a French Bistro.  Then, you are taken down a flight of stairs on the right leading directly into the main dining hall - which is also a huge wine shop area.  This was once the dining hall of Augustinina friars (they knew how to live, apparently).  The space is absolutely warm and inviting.  I couldn't wait to sit down and have my very first dinner in Milan! 

You'll love their communal dining approach wihch simply furthers the "at home" feel of this dining room - a welcome invitation coming in from the cold of snowy winter Milan night.  This is a very cozy and romantic place, perfect for an intimate date or best friends reuniting. 
Beautiful wine list!  Always starting with bubbly in the local country, hence Prosecco tonight!  Onwards to a white from Lebanon, a red Cavalli, and another red (I will updated this blog soon as I find the menu!).  They serve delicious Jamon and truffle, and beautiful cheese plate served with truffle honey (marvelous). 

Unforunately I did not get to spend enough time in this place to research its Italian wines. However, I do know that its wine shop (dining room) has dedicated years to its search for high-quality wines, achieving an extensive range of labels of rare prestige.

A MUST TRY for first timers to Milan, lovers, and best friends!!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Panini Giusto: Milan, Italy

First eating experience in MILAN!  Thanks to the coolest Jcat who performed much due diligence prior to landing, we knew exactly where to catch a perfect FIRST BITE in our Milanese eating experience!  Having just touched down 8am local time (red eye flight from JFK and Frankfurt), we drove into Milan, checked into our swanky boutique hotel, got ourselves unpacked and situated, quickly caught up on work emails.. then off to noon lunch for a brief getaway in between more international conference calls (buzz kill!! but we are troopers and keepin it cool in between!).... yeaah cuz, we are just international cool kidz like that!

Bank holiday today in Milan, streets calm and empty.  Love the smell of moisture, drizzling rain, fog in the air.  Gray is what we see, and it's still so sexy cool.  I love Europe....  Soledad feels at home here! 

Very cute cafe.  Delicious house aged parma ham panini.  Savory tasting and fresh ingredients.  Rocket in Europe has such a distinctive taste!  Crunchy, characteristic tinge of bitterness, a litte sweet at the same time.  Ahhh and the TARTUFO PANINI Jcat ordered consisted of house parma ham seasoned in langhirino 24mo, brie cheese, tomato, arugula, TRUFFLE OIL... MMmmmmmMmMm!!!!!!  Sole's RE SOLE PANINI consisted of house parma ham seasoned in langhirino 24mo, mozzarella cheese, arugula, basil, arthichokes cream.  Paired with a sip of noon Prosecco... and finally un cafe to top it off! 

Jcat et Sole = GRAND CRU to the max, here to represent in MILANO!  Adventure just beginning... more to come in upcoming days!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bar Agricole: San Francisco

Date:  vendredi 26 novembre 2010
Location:  355 11th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel:  (415) 355-9400

Agricole rum, made from pure can sugar (not molasses).  This new joint opened in August 2010.  I'd anxiously been awaiting its revealing, having known about its clandestine R&D beginnings a year prior from fellow friend and hot Ducati rider Eric Johnson, who is a Mixologist here.  These guys take their drinks seriously (but still fun!).  Backgrounds from San Francisco speakeasy Bourbon and Branch gives you an idea... though its not the place that makes the drink.  Its the Mixologist.  All the way.  

When other Sommeliers frequent a place for meetings, deal closings, or just to grab a drink, then you know that establishment is solid.  Bar Agricole is this kind of place.  Casual conversations taking place over bar area and tables frequently revolve around industry knowledge of food, wine and spirits and who or what is creatively pushing the envelope, carving new areas of opportunity.  

Cutting to the chase, why is Bar Agricole such a cool joint?  Because their drinks are refined, they specialize in fine rum and tequila, its one of 3 places in the city that has that sexy square block ice (Bar Agricole makes their own, my favorite of the 3), and the Mixologists know what they're doing, and do it without being a snob.  Patrons come here and are well taken care of enveloped in the height of fine spirits education - yet never pretentious.  I absolutely love this about San Francisco.  Only the very best of fine food and wine atmosphere but still casual cool, swanky, high street and hip.  Freedom loving vibe.  That's San Francisco for you.  No other way to live.  

Funny as I write this blog... another Master Somm friend pings me asking me what time I was at Bar Agricole last night as he got there around 1030pm PST.   told you.  This is the place if you want genuine good drink.

Quickly and finally - the sole reason I come here is for their Ti Punch.  Ain't nuthin punchy about this drink.  Pure 50 proof white agricole and lime zest, served on one solid block of defrosting ice.  They've got other fine, high end cocktail creations too... of the tequila, brandy, and whisky likes.  I love them all.  Though if forced to choose, I'll take the agricole rum.  Because it's rare and tastes like tamarind.... 

Thanks Eric Johnson and team for masterminding this place.  Knowing palates like Soledad's applaud and bow down.  5 solid drinks down last night and no hang over.  That's cuz it was the good shit.  Dam straight.  Well, off for my morning run!  Cheers all and big bisous, from the world of Sole.  

TI PUNCH:  with white agricole and lime zest.

 BOURBON OLD FASHIONED:  with two bitters.

 PRESIDENTE:  Haitian rum, farmhouse curacao, grenadine, orange bitters.

 RHUM DANDY:  with white agricole, sweet vermouth, lime, and absinthe.

 Bar agricole... the sexy swank bar.  Soledad's second home.

Bar agricole main dining floor.

LONG RHUM BUCK:  with ginger and lime.

Bar agricole secret sauces.... labeled just as in an apothecary...

Mixing spoons and straw in one.  Silver.  First time introduced to such.  LIKE.

TEQUILA COCKTAIL:  with sweet vermouth, stonefruit bitters, and orange.

 Soledad at ease.  Beautiful drink in hand.  Gorgeous and feeling sexy. 

The fresh fruits for the mixologists' concoctions.

 BROOKLYN COCKTAIL:  with whiskey, dry vermouth, amaro, maraska, and orange.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chez Maman: Potrero Hill, SF

Date:  vendredi 19 novembre 2010
Address:  1453 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107-2801
Tel:  (415) 824-7166

French.  Cafe.  Bistro.  Escargot.  Onion Soup w melted cheeeese.  Crepes.  Un Cafe.  KIR ROYALE.  Decadent chillax on a drizzly, cold, late Friday afternoon for late breakfast/lunch.  Mmmmmm.  In my cool neighborhood Potrero Hill.  Love dining at the bar with a good friend and discussing on life's exciting, twisted journeys... 

PLOW: Potrero Hill, SF

Date:  dimanche 14 novembre 2010
Address:  1299 18th Street @ Texas
San Francisco, CA 94107

Nyom nyom nyom!!  PLOW is a new brekky/brunch joint that just opened a few blocks away from my house.  Potrero Hill hood of SF, where the cool cats hang out.  :)  I had heard about this place for some time from local and international friends in HK (of all places!).  Finally got to try it when I missed my Sunday morning 730am JFK flight out to NYC.   Blessing in disguise... breakfast in SF!

This place does great for a couple reasons.  The location and set up has great feng shui (Maxine, wife of husband/wife team is Chinese, it's a given).  The decor is contemporary (marble bar top, actually refurbished post office counter!), yet warm (gorgeous wood floors and heavy velvet curtains).  Huge ceiling windows let the sun drench in, while tilting in the San Franciscan breeze.  The clientele, relaxed and San Francisco "come as you are" as I like to describe.  Grungy Sunday garb, or respectable dress down, never purposed.   Didn't see any kids or strollers (yay!).  30's older crowd, the kind that knows discerning food, ambiance, and time with good company.   Finally, the food is savory and genuine and soooo down to earth.  I love how the cooks are bold and confident, and handle the food with their fingers.  That's how I cook.  Don't be afraid to touch the food! 

Plow was rightly named due to the idea that the food created here is natural and of the earth.  The colors of the food stays in line with overall clean, muted tones of the restaurant (no jalopy style cooking here).  Though, flavors are long lasting and keep you thinking for awhile to come.  I want to go back!  Coffee - very strong roasted... wood chips.  Mmmmmmm. 

I sat at the bar (Soledad's favorite seat in the house) and eagerly looked on as the cooks and Maxine prepare every dish with noticeable finishing detail.  Triangle bread slices places just right, sliced bananas caramelized perfect for banana french toast, eggs cooked to order with a little special magic.  My scrambled eggs were light and fluffy (probably added milk?).  Small syrup container tilted just right on my plate.  Lemon ricotta pancakes - small and cute, and delicious with lemony finish!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mr. Pollo: San Francisco

Date:  22 octobre 2010
Location:  2823 Mission St x 24th
San Francisco, CA  94110
Tel:  +1 415 374 5546 

I don't know where to begin!  This is a really fantastic restaurant and great bang for the buck.  A true San Franciscan experience.  Five star fine dining dishes in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the eclectic Mission neighborhood.  Executive Chef Manny Jimenez (a real cutie, by the way) hails from Michelin Star restaurants such as Quince and Coi in SF.  Taking his skills from the upscale restaurants to his smaller class room project, Manny now cooks as a 1 man team in his own restaurant:  Mr Pollo.  

The menu is short and sweet.  A few starters include classic cheese arepas, empenadas, and freshly made columbian fruit drinks (passion fruit, blackberry).  You will want to save your appetite for Manny's Chef Tasting Menu.  For roughly $20, you'll get a number of courses specially designed by Manny based on whatever he finds in season at the local farmer's markets that day.  Expect each dish to be cooked with personal attention and design.  His dishes are decorated with small details of orange flavored flowers, or tiny purple flower petals.  Manny does not rush it.  He loves his craft.  You can watch him create magic as he cooks in his open kitchen in front of his guests.  Smiling and winking all the while.  Yes, I am a fan!

Oh... save room for dessert.  I am serious.  You may THINK you are full, but once the dessert arrives, you'll be surprised to find that suddenly you have room in your stomach again.  The table of 4 sitting next to us couldn't stop ordering desserts after consuming their Chef Tasting Menus...  I think they ordered 7 desserts!

This is a tiny restaurant, with roughly 5 tables, and maybe two chicken pictures (one is made of velour) on the walls.  There used to be more, I guess (hence Mr. Pollo).  It's just Manny in there as one chef, cooking by himself.  He's got one assistant who helps him a great deal during the busy hours... if you get there early, Manny will be taking your order and serving you personally as he comes out from behind his kitchen.  Mr. Pollo aired on Food Network few weeks back.   But that's not how I discovered this gem.  It was through word of mouth from a fellow Master Sommelier Jesse Becker who recommended it.  Great call!  It's my #1 must share place for my fellow foodie friends.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nombe Izakaya: San Francisco

Date:  2 octobre 2010
Location:  2491 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel:  +1 415 681 7150

I'll say it once and I'll say it again.  I love SF because it is one of the food and wine capitals of the world.  I love it more because I can find just about any sort of authentic cuisine, within minutes of my home (now in the eclectic Potrero Hill/Mission hood).  On a whim, I went on an athoc food run with a sommelier friend of mine.  Had no idea what I was in for.   

Nombe (pronounced nom-bay) is a fun, casual, very mission-esque restaurant in the heart of the Mission District.  Across the street from Medjool and Foreign Cinema.  Japanese street food directed by esteemed Executive Chef Nick Balla (who spent years perfecting his skills in Tokyo amongst other high end establishments in SF), crafted with the freshest seasonal ingredients the region has to offer.  Paired with great sake from a winning sake list prepared by Sake Sommelier Gil Payne (who also hails from Tokyo).

We sat at the bar (Soledad's favorite place to be seated) and ordered Asahi and Sapporo on tap to start.  Cold light beer on tap always gets a smile on!  Then came the menu...  yakitori sampler (chicken heart, chicken spicy sausage, fried chicken skin, CHICKEN!), seasonal persimmon salad (refreshing, sweet, tangy!), pork belly (wow - super soft and savory, melted in my mouth), and the FRIED CHICKEN WINGS was one of my favorites!  Crispy, sweet, a little tangy lime, with a little added spiciness from jalapeno...  small side dishes of gobo and cucumber... some other radish root thingy that offset the palate in between the savory bites of yummy grilled Japanese street food.

I felt like I was in Japan!  With one huge difference - the staff conversed with me in fluent English (thank God!!!) and even quenched (no pun intended) my thirst for sake pairing with the foods we ordered.  I appreciated that Gil Payne came to share two kinds of sake with us that evening and explained the characteristics in each one that would make it pair with the tendon, pork belly, and other fried or grilled dishes.  What a true delight!!  Of course, handy cold draft Sapporo was always at hand's reach to cleanse the palate in between tastes.  :)

I am so excited about this new find.  Nombe has been around for about a year, since November 2009.  Yay!  Oh and guess whaaattt.. they open and serve until 2am!!  Love it - another late night snack find in San Francisco (the city that sleep at 10pm PST).  I will definitely be bringing my Top Chef friends and out of towners to try this place out.  Tokyo - in San Francisco!  Thanks NOMBE!   

Okay, up next... MR POLLO!!

Harvest Farm-to-Table: Carmel

Date:  25-26 septembre 2010
Location:  Quail Lodge Golf Club
8205 Valley Greens Drive
Carmel, CA 93923
Tel: +1 831 624 2888

What an amazing event!  Fresh, organic, seasonal food, wine, and music all in one place!  "Harvest:  Farm-to-Table" is a yearly event presented by my friends at Coastal Luxury Management in Carmel, California.  Appropriately named, Harvest takes place just at the end of summer/beginning of fall, when produce is at its best.  Colorful, bright, rich in flavors and textures, summer/fall seasons are a chef's delight.  Over 50 regional celebrity chefs and over 100 wineries gather to showcase their goodies in a series of non-stop food and free flowing wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, and also cheese education!  A celebration of local agriculture and viticulture!

The weather was perfectly sunny and warm as we made our way around the entire event at least twice.  We made super repeat visits to the raw oysters and the Pouilly Fuisse!  I loved the mini strawberry muffins with strawberry icing on top.  I had two.  A difficult place to be if you're on a diet.  I really liked the mini salad made with organic seasonal broccoli and cauiliflower, summer greens and arugula, heirloom tomatoe, some feta, and ANCHOVY!  So bright, delicious, fresh, and savory!  Then, I walked right up to any of the wines and asked for a pour to help wash down the food.  Really hard to beat this day!

I made sure to attend the Riedel wine tasting demonstration.  We tasted four different wines in the appropriate stemware.  What a difference the proper wine glass truly makes.  I had no idea that Chardonnay would have such an open bouquet in the right glass.  Thought my bordeaux "one glass for all" was suitable... apparently not. 

Gin Blossoms was also playing live that Sunday.  It was an intimate gathering as we were able to get up close and personal to the lead singer Robin Wilson.  Over ten years later, he is still looking hot and singing smooth!!

Can't wait for Harvest Farm to Table 2011!