Monday, March 31, 2008

Lunch at Local

I used to have lunch every week with H, when both of us worked in San Francisco's Financial District. These days, with a lot of advance planning, we are lucky to lunch in the City every three or four months. All the same, our longtime friendship continues and our get togethers are always special.

Today, we had a date at one of San Francisco's new "hot spots," Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant.

Located on First Street, near Folsom, it is in the heart of the South of Market/Embarcadero district where new high rise condo and apartment towers seems to be popping up daily.
We had made our reservation a few weeks ago. Coincidentally, yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle's magazine had a review of Local.

The first "surprise" upon arriving at Local is the massive front door which, unless it is already open, gives no evidence of how to open in. Once through the front door, you get to decide whether to visit the wine shop and convenience store to your left or to go straight, through another huge door into the restaurant. Better do a session at the gym the day you dine here, just to be able to open the doors.

The decor is stark but comfortable, with seating at tables, at the bar, and at a large communal table. The menu is interesting and reasonably priced.

H ordered the Duck Breast Salad and I chose the Steamed Mussels, partly because they came with Herbed Fries.

I asked if my Herbed Fries could be "upgraded" to the Fries with Truffle Salad and Shaved Parmesan. Our server laughed and said that most people ask for this "upgrade."

Each of our entrées were about $12.

While our food was good, although not overly memorable, our service was horrid. It started with my tea being served on my left rather than my right. Then, our warm bread arrived but without butter or olive oil and it took us a long while to catch the eye of a server to request something for our bread.

I must note, that the small dining area was only about 1/3 full, so it was not as if the servers were overly occupied...just not there.

Our meals were served and I was told that my Fries would be along in a moment. That moment lasted until after I had eaten my last mussel and we had asked our server twice where they might be. After the second time, I told her that she may as well just forget them and take the cost off my meal. Suddenly, the fries appeared...and they were yummy.

The good part about this lunch with H is that we had a nice leisurely visit. The bad news is that the erratic and unprofessional service means I will not be back.

While I visit most restaurants that I review several times, if I have a bad experience the first time, I don't return...there are too many places where I can spend my restaurant dollar.

On our way out, we stopped in the wine shop which is very lovely...more like a wine room in a private collector's home. The shop also carries milk, eggs, cheese, and other items, including gourmet cat and dog food, as a convenience to the locals who may have forgetten these items or just run out...This is a nice feature which saves the locals from having to get into their cars or a taxi to make the trek to a Safeway or other supermarket...this neighborhood has yet to add such conveniences.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Lobster Rolls with HG

Got together with HG this week while she is home on Spring Break. I suggested that we lunch at the new Yankee Pier that opened in Lafayette CA in January.
I've been a fan of Yankee Pier since chef Bradley Ogden opened his first San Francisco Bay Area New England-style fish house, several years ago in Larkspur CA.
As a former New Englander, I cannot pass up the Lobster Roll...a marvelous lobster salad sandwich, made with freshly-boiled Maine Lobster. The cold salad mixture is simple...a bit of mayonnaise and chopped pickle. It is packed into a warm, just-griddled top-loading hot dog bun and served in a paper-lined basket with housemade potato chips and cole slaw. Every time I have one, I think I am back in Maine...what brings me back to reality is that the servers don't have New England accents!!!
t any rate, HG has never had a Lobster Roll and my enthusiasm convinced her that she, too, had to try one. She came to the restaurant thinking Fish and Chips...also a good choice...but was easily persuaded.

We finished off this lovely lunch with a shared order of warm fresh fruit Crisp topped with a scoop of Vanilla Bean ice cream.

In the rare instance that I don't order a Lobster Roll at Yankee Pier, I choose the Fried Ipswich Clams...another authentic New England dish.

The one down side to the Lobster Roll is its $19.95, I only indulge occasionally.

Yankee Pier features a wide selection of fish, prepared numerous ways...also salads and even a burger, steak and chicken for non-fish eaters who get dragged here with people like me, who am always up for really good fresh fish.

During lunch the other day, the manager stopped by our table to chat. With this restaurant being just a few months old, he is still trying to figure out how much fish to order for each day...some days he does run out of items before the restaurant closes.

Other Yankee Pier locations are in Larkspur, San Jose at Santana Row, and in the United Terminal at San Francisco International Airport.

Monday, March 24, 2008


The Palm Springs Desert Museum features Western American and Contemporary Art. In the past year, it has undergone major was always lovely and interesting, but now it is even more so.

Entering the Museum, we were greeted by the very large Your Dog by Japanese Sculptor Yoshitomo Nara. This fiberglass dog is one of Nara's largest and most famous works of art. I fell in love with him...he will be on display at the Museum indefinitely.
Although we visit the Museum every year, this year, we decided to take the one-hour docent overview tour. Not only did we learn about all the new changes in the Museum, but we also were made aware of details and information about art works with which we were already family...I highly recommend a docent tour, if you have the time.

Another intriguing new work in the Museum is Patrick Dougherty’s Second Sight. Dougherty and numerous volunteers and Museum staff spent the month of July, 2007 creating this site-specific installation from willow and poplar saplings, sticks, and branches. The three pieces that were created are inspired by the Apache and Cahuilla Indian woven baskets that are part of the Museum's collection. These huge basket-like works are so large that they span two stories of the Museum. They have entrances into which you can walk. Our docent told us that there have been wedding ceremonies held in the sculputures. Learn more about Second Sight and Dougherty's other installations: Patrick Dougherty.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dinner at Sea Salt in Berkeley

The owners of Lalime's in Berkeley, Haig and Cindy, Krikorian opened Sea Salt over two years ago, but tonight was my first time to dine here. The emphasis at Sea Salt is on fresh fish.
Located in a quiet part of San Pablo Avenue, the restaurant serves lunch weekdays, weekend brunch, and nightly dinner. The ambiance is casual, the food fresh; the menu changes daily.

To start, I ordered a salad of Roasted Baby Beets which was garnished with a tahini lemon vinaigrette, mint, yogurt and sumac. Jim's starter was a bowl of White Clam Chowder. My Beet dish could easily have been shared by two. Jim, the New England Clam Chowder expert in our family, declared his chowder to be as good at those served at his other favorite places Walnut Creek Yacht Club and Yankee Pier.
For our main courses, we both chose from the Smaller dish part of the menu. Jim's Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels were served in a stainless steel bowl. There were at least two dozen mussels in a tasty broth with lots of toasted bread.
My Grilled California Squid

was served over Gigande Beans...delicious.
Only I ordered dessert, choosing one of the cheeses...Pantaleo, a goat cheese from Sardinia...It was served with two generous slices with toasted walnut bread, slices of poached pears, and toasted Marcona almonds...this serving also was large enough to share...Jim took a few tastes.Sweet desserts included a Meyer Lemon Tart and a Brownie Sundae.
Sea Salt is a very "Berkeley" restaurant in that most of the clientele seemed to come from the community...many most likely associated with the University.
The menu is small and I expect some less adventurous diners might feel intimidated by it and have a hard time deciding what and how to order. Even I was not ready to risk not liking the Torchon of Monkfish Liver, which our server described as a sort of foie gras of fish liver. Another time maybe. But the Seared Arctic Char, the Grilled Hawaiian Swordfish, and the Fish and Chips all were tempting offerings among the Larger dishes. I know my friend Mort will be delighted to know that they feature Fried Whole Smelts.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Every March, we go head to Palm Springs for a week of relaxation and, usually, warmth. Last week was our week and it was a perfect one. This it the first of several posts on what we did and where we went. Each year, we have old favorite places to which we return and new discoveries to make.

Just about every house and hotel/inn has a pool. I've heard that there are more swimming pools in the Palm Springs area than in anywhere else in the United States. The temperatures in March are in the 80s during the day and I got in plenty of pool time. This is the pool where we stay:

Something we do every year is go the the PALM SPRINGS FOLLIES
This year marks the 17th year of this amazing three-hour review in which all the performers are over 50 years old. Many of the women have been Las Vegas show girls or Rockettes; the men have performed in Broadway shows...all very talented and lively even at as old as 84!

The Follies are modeled after the Zigfield Follies and MC Riff Markowitz keeps the show moving along with his irreverent comments and is a delight! The show always ends on a serious note, with a tribute to those in the audience who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Each year there is a new theme and, in addition to the company of dancers and entertainers, there is always a guest star..the current guest star is Melba Moore.

On our first night in town, we met friends from Winnepeg, who winter in Palm Springs, for dinner at John Henry's. I've heard about John Henry's for years, mainly from locals, but had never dined here. It turned out to be our favorite restaurant in a week of dinners out. A small restaurant, with most of its seating on an outdoor patio (yes, there are heaters for cool desert nights), it is easy to pass by the driveways to the small parking area...the restaurant is on East Tahquitz Canyon Way, not far from the airport and just behind the Jensen's grocery store. Our main courses include Hawaian Opah for me, Lake Superior White Fish for the two men, and Roast Chicken for my friend Marjorie. Included in the price of the entree, is a salad...the day's special salad of Warm Eggplant and diced Tomatoes was superb.
Although our meals were filling, we found room to share a serving of Apple Pie and Ice Cream which was more than enough for the four of us. Price are very reasonable at John Henry's...most entrees are about $20; our wine was about the same price for a bottle of a very nice California Cabernet. Next year, John Henry's is at the top of my list.