Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Special: San Francisco, A Treatsie on Tourism and Cuisine

San Francisco, California - a mecca for tourism, a sports-lover's dream home, and a bastion for culinary ingenuity - is where Taste travels for this month's Special Report, a post inspired by multiple journeys to the City By the Bay's most famous trap for visitors, Pier 39.

Delicately balanced on reinforced wood boards, rusted metal, and sturdy concrete rests one of the few "cities inside a city" (think Chinatown, Japantown, Little Italy) dedicated solely to the pursuit of a tourist's income. Pier 39 has come to symbolize what residents both love and hate about their town; they adore the fresh food and emphasis on sustainability found on the wharf, but despise the crowds, traffic, and overpriced merchandise. My venture to what I formerly considered the pit of San Francisco (you can guess which side of the love/hate border I resided on) opened my mind to the hidden gems of one of the world's most watched (and most frequently spat upon) attractions.


The day started like any other before in the town I considered my second home. Walking along the Embarcadero, looking up at the high rises and down at the deep blue bay, I felt the joy I had observed as a child trudging down the same pathway. It was a happiness unlike any other - the feeling that, at any moment, the magic of San Francisco would sweep me off my feet. Where that magic would come from - whether from a trip to the Ferry Building or an angled glance at a skyscraper - was, at that point, unknown. All I knew was that it was time (finally) to man up and return to the place I had so fiercely despised in my time as a resident in "The City". After coming to such a tepid realization, I hesitantly hailed a bike-powered taxi and rode down the street, around the bend, miles away from SF I loved, into the unknown.


Alright, let's be honest, that intro was far more dramatic than it needed to be. Though venturing to Pier 39 was, at first, unpleasant, as heavy traffic and angry drivers bogged down my vehicle, it soon turned into an experience I will never forget. The joy began to creep back to me the second I rolled up to the entrance of the wharf, as crisp, yet lazy notes of jazz flowed to my ears from a trio of brass performers showing their stuff in front of the famous Hard Rock Cafe. As I moved past the musicians and into the heart of the the pier, I felt a child-like flame flicker inside of me. For some reason I still cannot comprehend, I was enjoying myself BEFORE I took a single bite. After collecting myself, I decided it was time to complete my mission by scarfing down a few plates of overpriced food at the many "cheaper" places to grab a bite (I dined at just one of the half dozen "fancy" eateries)


The first establishment I ventured into (or should I say up to) was the ToGo Chowder Counter at the Boudin bakery, where I promptly ordered the special, a New England in a bread bowl. Though the bread was perfect (as you'd expect from a famous bakery) the chowder lacked flavor. The base was far too thick and tiny pieces of clam floated in a salty sea of cream. Through one experience, the score was 1 bad, 0 good. The negative tally was soon to be equalized by a positive one, The Crepe Cafe. Upon walking into the not-at-all-charming, slightly cheesy Crepe Cafe, I was struck by the overwhelming smell of crepe batter. In addition, I was uneasy about the tiny1 half-a-dozen-item menu. Thankfully, I pressed on, ordering the classic strawberry and banana crepe with nutella. The sweet was tasty; then again, it is hard to go wrong with chocolate and fresh fruit. Regardless of difficultly level, it was a positive mixture of flavors wrapped in a decent crepe, so I tied the score at 1-1.


After the Crepe Cafe, I continued my sweet kick with a stop at the Fudge House. The Fudge House, a Pier 39 staple since it's opening in the 1990's, did not disappoint. Delectable, belly-busting caramel apples and smooth, rich fudge awaited me. My favorite was also the number one choice of most children - the chocolate-shelled caramel apple, a Granny Smith topped with gooey sugar and milk cocoa. The score? 2-1, in favor of team positive, a lead that would continue to grow with a dinner visit to Fog Harbor Fish House's main dining hall. Though Fog Harbor broke my bank, it did a decent job with every fish it cooked. My favorite, whole Dungeness crab, was a highlight. The cooking prowess displayed at Fog Harbor, though not impressive, rivaled some of the mid-to-high level West Coast fish houses that dot the city. Also, I gave additional props to the restaurant for promoting the conservation of the oceans by fielding a sustainable menu for customers to choose from.


The 3-1 lead I enjoyed two-thirds of the way through my stay was, apparently, not meant to last. With my final dollars and last two meals, I chose to try a pair of the Pier's most adored tourist restaurants - the aforementioned Hard Rock Cafe and the ever-confusing Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I have little to say about my meal at Hard Rock except that it was overpriced and underwhelming. The Norwegian Salmon, often hailed as the best entree, was frightfully dry and obviously overcooked. Though the music was a welcome distraction, the meal made the score 3-2. Bubba Gump, on the other hand, was a place I expected to enjoy. After reading reviews and recommendations, I was convinced BG would be the place to go to make Pier 39's final score a shocking 4-2. How wrong was I. After walking into a massive room with muddled decor, I sat down in the insanely loud space and tried to concentrate on what I wanted to order. Dancing on the menu were various shrimp entrees, San Franciscan classics, and Bourbon Street favorites. Though I expected a little of all three, I was not prepared to see Texas Baby Back Ribs ($24.00), Montana Angus Beef ($23.00), and South-of-the-Border Fish Tacos ($13.00) as highlighted items. Though every dish I ordered BORDERED on edible, the prices and scattered options made my head spin and the third "dislike" rating to fall.


A 3-3 finish. Initially, I was overcome with disappointment as I trudged out of Bubba Gump's, empty wallet in hand. Walking towards the pier's exit, I wondered to myself "where did I go wrong?" and "HOW much did I pay for that?!" My growing discontent was interrupted by a soft jazz melody from the front of Hard Rock Cafe. I recognized the piece as an instrumental cover of Michael Bolton's "By the Dock of the Bay". As I turned to look at my surroundings, I realized for the first time why tourists of the great Californian city of San Francisco had flocked for generations to the place where I stood: the people and the view could not be beat. With a flicker of a smile, I realized my 3-3 record was not so bad; I had enjoyed a great day at a place I formerly despised with 10,000 strangers, most of whom I would never see again. And that, that right there, is the magic of San Francisco. With a greater understanding, a replenished wallet, and a suddenly empty stomach, I walked to the curb and hopped on a cable car, intent on seeing the city I so adored in an entirely new light.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pike Place Chowder (Seafood), Seattle, WA

Pike Place Chowder, in the heart of beautiful Seattle, serves (easily) the best seafood soup I have ever sampled. This comes from me, a guy who has dined at "national-award winning" chowder joints in Monterey, San Francisco, and Newport (Oregon). Pike Place Chowder, founded in 1993, blows all other competitors out of the water with local, organic vegetables, delicious bread, hot soups, and, of course, the freshest seafood possible.


My favorite offering here is the traditional New England Clam Chowder. This stew, a soup inducted into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall of Fame just five years ago, is crammed to the rim with boiled potatoes, bacon bits, and delicious clams. The cream broth itself is flavored with a secret blend of divine herbs and spices that takes the soup to a whole new level. It is not too thick or thin - Pike's New England is spoon after spoon of savory seafood perfection. This isn't the only soup on the menu; Pike Place serves a well-loved quintet of other chowders; the Manhattan (a tomato-based soup), the Chicken and Corn, the Market Chowder (a chef's special involving the "fresh fish of the day"), a Scallop Chowder, and the stunningly tasty Smoked Salmon Chowder. All five are, in their own ways, on par with the New England version Pike Place is best known for.


This restaurant, though, is often erroneously thought of as 'chowder-only'. Don't be fooled and miss out - Pike Place Chowder offers a wide variety of fresh seafood baskets, along with a slew of bisques, salads, and sandwiches. For fish and chips, customers can choose fried coconut prawns, fresh oysters, cod, or salmon to go along with their fries. As for sandwiches, Pike Place pumps out dozens a day. The most popular is the Crab Roll, a sourdough bun topped with heaps of fresh crab meat, mayo, lemon, and secret seasoning. A close second is the smoked salmon sandwich, where pieces of salmon are tossed in a roasted corn salsa and served cold on a bun. Speaking of buns, this little shop uses some of the best bread I've had the pleasure of eating. The sourdough that comes with each cup of soup is flaky yet firm. It holds up when dunked and requires a good bit of chewing when consumed before immersion.

Pike Place Chowder is a gem in a city filled with stunningly-good establishments. From coffee shops to Asian markets, Seattle has it all, especially seafood. If you are in the "Emerald City" and have a hankering for a tasty chowder, crab roll or box of fish an chips, drive on over to Pike Street and hit this place up; you will not be disappointed.

Pike Place Chowder on Urbanspoon

The Return

Taste. food blog has, finally, after a 6-month hiatus, returned. Over the break, we were featured in numerous articles both online and in print. Thank you to everyone who gave us a shout-out! Now, with this added boost, regular blogging will begin. In other news, we just received our 10,000th individual, world-wide hit! Thank you for the continued support; we left with only 6,000 last October.


Here's the truly big news:

In the half a year seen we last typed out our love for cuisine, Taste.'s dedicated foodies have visited and toured a half-dozen regions of the U.S. Along with the already planned (extensive) coverage of SF and Northern California, new delicious additions are here. I am proud to announce the official expansion of "Taste." into Seattle, Denver, Portland, Western Oregon, and the sunny Los Angeles Metro Area! To maintain our sanity while writing dozens of articles, we have decided to drop Tampa Bay and nix our upcoming addition Houston. Don't worry; we'll add the Eastern U.S. back in the next year. Look forward to expansion into New York City, Boston, and New Orleans!

Below is a catalogue of upcoming reviews and specials for our territories, both new and old. (This list is for the next three months - yeah, that's a ton of content!) Which one are you most excited for?!?!

San Francisco:
-Special: Pier 39: A Treatise on Tourism and Cuisine
-Special: Neighborhoods: Eating in a Diverse City
-Boccalone (Restaurant Review)
-Chez Panisse (Restaurant Review)
-Ike's Place (Restaurant Review)

San Jose:
-Special: The Resurgence of a City
-Falafel Drive-In (Restaurant Review)
-Souvlaki Skewers (Restaurant Review)

Los Angeles:
-Special: Eating in the Happiest Place on Earth
-Special: SoCal Food Trucks
-El Patio Drive-In (Restaurant Review)

Seattle:
-Special: Emerald City Eats
-Special: Pike's Place Market
-Special: Seattle's Sandwich Shops
-Pike Place Chowder (Restaurant Review)
-Piroshky Piroshky (Restaurant Review)
-Ezell's Chicken (Restaurant Review)

Portland:
-Voodoo Doughnut (Restaurant Review)
-Bijou Cafe (Restaurant Review)
-Michael's Beef (Restaurant Review)
-Special: Our "Weirdest" City

Western Oregon:
-Local Ocean (Newport) (Restaurant Review)
-Sweet Life Patisserie (Eugene) (Restaurant Review)
-Noodle Cafe (Newport) Restaurant Review)
-Big Stuff BBQ (Cottage Grove) (Restaurant Review)
-Wiley's World Pasta Shoppe (Ashland) (Restaurant Review)

Denver/Boulder:
-Illegal Pete's (Restaurant Review)
-Arlene's Bistro and Creperie (Restaurant Review)
-Special: Mile High Eats


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bakery Nouveau (Bakery/Desserts), Seattle, WA


This restaurant in Seattle's foodie-famous western end is the epitome of excellence. I have never dined at a finer baking establishment in my life - before or since. Each pastry is perfectly crafted in every sense of the word (perfection, that is), and whether it be savory or sweet, you will surely enjoy whatever you order. Bakeries are, of course, more known for sugar than salt. Bakery Nouveau has an immense list of offerings from not-so-regular chocolate cake to their specialty "Phoenix". Simply put, I would heavily contemplate making the 1,000 mile drive just for this pastry; in fact, I do almost every day. Common sense and fuel prices win out in the end, but my desire is never quelled. I first purchased this dessert early in the morning on a beautiful Seattle day, but did not have a chance to eat it until late that night in Newport, Oregon. It held up miraculously well, a testament to the sturdiness of the boxes the bakery uses and the cakes which fill them. I initially intended to take a single bite and put the guilt-laden sweet away for the morning, but my will shattered. Creamy caramel mousse mixed with pear and chocolate varieties melted my taste buds. The chocolate sponge cake which formed the base was equally delicious, but arguably my favorite part was the thick sea of gooey caramel topping the cake. It seemed improbable that such a weak structure could hold up such an ocean of formerly liquified sugar but it did by some otherworldly influence. Though obviously a diet-breaker, I found sacrificing some of the roominess in my jeans was a worthy trade-off.



Another option is any one of their huge variety of fruit tarts and danishes. The apple tart is a succulent creation with fresh sliced Washington apples in a crispy puff exterior. The interior is actually a frangipan, or pastry cream with almond cream and apple filling. It is almost like a preserve in flavor when paired with the apricot glaze on top, but calling it one seems offensive. The entire sweet is covered in a delectable streusel as well, finishing off the perfect dessert. The pear option is quite different surprisingly. Though the same pate sucre crust awaits the diner, this one is filled cherries and pears, and then topped off with a tasty raspberry jam. The same apricot glaze coats the pastry, which is then, in turn, covered in sliced almonds. Both are two of the finest sweets I have had the pleasure to eat. 



Bakery Nouveau proves they are far from a one-trick pony by offering an intensely delicious array of savory pastries. Though their signature is the salmon quiche (apparently something not offered when I went in, bummer), all of their savory options are simply amazing. My favorite is the spinach quiche, usually the plainest one possible. This dish is the traditional tour de force for any French inspired restaurant. Bakery Nouveau's easily beats out the dozens of others I am used to back home in California. Giant slices of egg and spinach goodness are plated on finery and then topped with, wait for it, nothing. For once, simplicity wins out over ingenuity in the age old bakery battle of what ingredients can - and should - be shoved into classics.



Enough with the savory detour, let's get back on the sweet track with this restaurant's twice-baked almond croissant. Croissants were not one of my loves before Bakery Nouveau. I never really liked the buttery French rolls for some strange reason until I entered the hallowed patisserie. There they feature a number of the finest croissants available, all house-made of course. The one that immediately caught my eye was the twice-baked almond. Soaked to it's core in simple syrup, this almond-lover's dream contained and was topped with both almond cream and sliced nuts. For a croissant hater to fall in love with a variety of said pastry, you better believe it had to be something special.



Bakery Nouveau is easily the best bakery (and one of the top restaurants, period) I have had the pleasure of dining at; I recommend it to anyone with a sweet tooth in the Washington area. For that matter, anyone in the U.S. who has an day of and a few hundred dollars should take a vacation to Seattle to try this establishment and the thousands of others that call the city home.


Bakery Nouveau on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Special: Boulder, Colorado

Nearly 1,000 miles from my comfortable desk and Apple computer lies a land unknown to many and adored by thousands more. It is a slice of a big city with a small-town feel situated just a few miles North of Denver, Colorado. This mystical region of food lore is known as Boulder. Settled as early as 1858, this city of just around 100,000 hungry citizens loves just two things: the UC Boulder Buffs and great cuisine. I had the immense fortune to be able to sample both over a four-day stop in the metro. Here's the story of the second mile-high city.


There a few greater places on Earth for a bite than this quaint college town, which was ranked by Bon Appetit magazine as the foodiest town of 2010. After my trip, I can happily corroborate the magazine's findings. From the fancy to the affordable, Boulder simply has it all. On the expensive end, there's the city's flagship restaurant, Frasca Food and Wine, which features a head chef named Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson, a culinary artist known to the world after a successful run on Bravo's popular "Top Chef" television program. Coming back down to the wallets of your average university attendee, Boulder features a stretch of restaurants on University Avenue and an open air mall on Pearl Street that boast dozens of top and affordable restaurants. One such stop is the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery, a cherished local stop for gourmet burgers and microbrews.



Unfortunately for my tastebuds, neither heavyweight establishment drooled over above were in the cards for my tour first of the city. What I did eat, though, proved an astonishing and previously inconceivable theory; Boulder, for such a small place, has immense depth when it comes to restaurants. My travels took me to only a single eatery considered among Boulder's top 100, that one being the French creperie Crepes A La Carte on Pearl Street. Even still, nearly every experience was positive on par with the finest casual eateries I have ever dined at. Geisty's Dogg House, just a short walk from the university, is my second most-loved stop for hotdogs behind Show Dogs of San Francisco. I ordered a regional specialty, bison, as my meat of choice. What I received was a buffalo sausage cooked to perfection and topped with hot mustard and jalapeƱo slaw. The whole item was nearly nine inches long and wrapped in a butter-toasted sourdough bun for only $6.


Another such stop proved to be Illegal Pete's, a gourmet chain of five establishments located throughout the Boulder-Denver metro area. With a combination of simplistic chefs and loyal customers, this restaurant has moved to the forefront of Hispanic-influenced cuisine in the college town. Chipotle style tacos and burritos are their specialty. The standard meats are all there - chicken, steak, shredded beef, and carnitas - along with a vegetarian and a primavera option. I ordered a grilled steak taco in a flour tortilla and then proceeded to unload half the condiment bar onto it. Roasted green peppers, queso fresco, sour cream, black beans, and a small helping of white rice all were carefully added to the behemoth dish. All the flavors were simply spot-on and strangely light, giving me the hard-fought urge to purchase a second and a third. It still stands as possibly the best "non-traditional" taco I have ever consumed.


From the fancy to the simplistic, Boulder, the city of Buffs, has everything any foodie could possibly desire. Whether it is world famous Frasca or the lesser known establishments, every dish here is worth eating. Typing this a back home in California makes me crave everything I miss about my favorite mile-high city. I can only hope I have the fortune of one day going back and trying all the unexplored wonders Boulder has to offer to those willing to look.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Restart!

As you may have noticed, Taste. has been very quiet recently. With just one post in the past three months, I am sure you've been getting a little bored with it. After all, how many times can you read about the same Thai restaurant without bawling?

Well, now there's something to look forward to. Taste. will be getting back off the ground in a big way starting this week. In addition to some of the best restaurants in the Bay and Northern California, look forward to more write-ups in Tampa Bay and a whole new set including top eateries in Boulder, Colorado, America's foodiest small city. Just typing this leaves me tingling with excitement. See you soon, and good eatings.

-Taste.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Krung Thai, (Thai), San Jose, CA

Krung Thai, arguably San Jose's best Thai restaurant since it's opening years prior, has just recently won my acclaim. For years I had driven by the sleepy main-street store waiting for the day I would dare to try it; yet at the same time, I feared the dinner I'd have to. All this confusion can be simply explained by the fact I had little knowledge of Krung Thai's brilliance and esteem. At the same time, my overwhelming dislike of the Thai cuisine (or at least San Jose's version) helped keep me away. Adding to the errors even after dining, I just recently realized I have been contributing to the location blocks South, which I have yet to try. This is a minimal discrepancy, as both serve the same food and are owned by the same Thai family, so I will continue writing this article as if nothing were in question.


Krung Thai's aura of excellence has been built by great service, better than average food, and a outpouring of love from the online community. Falling into the food category is one area the restaurant specializes in, appetizers. Delicious and traditional small plates flow out of the kitchen at rapid speeds, seeing that each table has at least two to it's name. The most popular may be the Satay, a Thai specialty. This savory stick of marinated meat comes in either pork or chicken and is nearly always served with a peanut oil sauce. Another favorite is the Kung Tod, or fried prawns, consisting of - you guessed it - a plate of perfectly fried seafood served with Thai sweet sauce.


The restaurant's famous appetizers and succulent desserts set the stage for mediocrity in the main course. However, Krung Thai breaks free from San Jose's traditional downfall - the inability to plate three perfect plates in a single meal. The middle entree is surely the best. Each dish has an affordable price tag to go with stunning flavor. The Yellow Curry is a perfect example, with large hunks of savory chicken and potatoes awash in a golden coconut sauce. A personal favorite is the Pad Ka-Na Prik Hang, or marinated beef with Chinese broccoli, a dish lathered in oyster broth. The dried red chills add an unexpected kick of subtle heat that pairs well with the boiled broccoli and savory beef.



For dessert comes sweet offerings such as the mango ice cream with fried banana, whose combination of oil and fruity cream makes for a wonderful finish. Never before had I tried mangoes and bananas as separate components of the same dessert. Now, it's something I regularly crave. The aromatic mango ice cream created a nice (albeit soupy) counterpart for the sweet crunch of the fried banana Thankfully, the dairy component was rather like a gelato in texture and took much longer to melt than a normal scoop, allowing the textures to be featured as ugh as the flavors.




Krung Thai has to be a top choice for dinner any time you stumble into the South Bay, a region known for mediocre cuisine when compared to the vibrant scenes of San Francisco, Oakland, and the North Bay. Krung Thai gives me and many others who call San Jose home hope that our little slice of California may soon develop into a renowned foodie hub.

Krung Thai on Urbanspoon