Friday, August 27, 2010

Sasa: More of the Fusion Invasion in Walnut Creek

In the past year, at least five restaurants serving Fusion cuisine have opened in Walnut Creek. My description of Fusion cuisine is that it is a combination of Asian and American foods and preparations.

While I think that the large number of Fusion restaurants in Walnut Creek might be a bit too much of a good thing, this is not stopping me from trying them. In June I wrote about Vanessa's Bistro 2, where the Fusion dishes have a Vietnamese slant.

Today, Melia and I tried out Sasa, where the Asian emphasis is Japanese. Sasa describes itself as a "Japanese Izakaya." Japanese Isakayas are tradional small plate restaurants where people go to unwind and visit all day long, sort of a Japanese version of a Dim Sum restaurant.

So far of the newer Fusion places I've tried, Sasa is my favorite.

For lunch today, we shared four dishes from the "To Share or Not" part of the menu. These dishes are Small Plates and priced at Lunch at $6 for one, $11 for two, and $15 for three.

We started with a selection of three:

* The Farmer's Veggie Roll, a serving of 5 pieces of a seasonal vegetable Maki Roll
* Tempura Prawns Lettuce Wraps, a serving of 2 large prawns, each on on a pile of butter lettuce leaves
* Spicy Grilled Baby Back Riblets, 4 sauced riblets with a side purple cabbage salad

The presentation of our selections was beautiful and all were very tasty. The Prawn dish was my favorite. The sauce on the Ribs was a bit too sweet for my taste, but all dishes were outstanding.

Wanting just a little something more to complete our meal, we ordered the Sweet Corn Fritters, which were freshly fried and bursting with the flavor of the fresh sweet corn which is at the height of its season right now.

We each enjoyed a pot of flowering tea with our relaxing lunch.

Sasa's lunch menu also offers larger plates such as Three Mini Chicken Teriyaki Burgers, a Soft Shell Crab Club Sandwich, Soba Noodles, and lots of Sushi.

The dinner menu features a similar mix of Small and Large Plates and dedicates an entire section of the menu to what's fresh from the local Farmer's Markets. Much of Sosa's fresh seafood is delivered daily from Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market (the largest fish market in the world) and Oahu's Auction Block.

Sasa's emphasis on fresh and seasonal food was showcased in each dish that we enjoyed today.

There are two dining rooms. The front room has a mix of booths and high tables. The back dining room is all tables. And, there is also seating on an outdoor patio.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From the Napa Valley; Part 2

Mary Ann joined us for our first full day in the Valley, arriving in time for breakfast with us at the Vintage Inn.

After breakfast, we headed to Mumm Napa Valley for a tour and tasting. We missed the first tour of the day, which is at 10 a.m. and for which there is no charge and no included tasting. For the rest of the day's tours, there is a charge of $20 for the one hour tour which includes three tastings of Mumm's sparkling wines and participants get to keep their Mumm logo tasting flute. The cost for the tour/tasting for those under 21 is $10 and their tasting is of Mumm's non-alcoholic wine grape juices.

The Mumm tour is one of my favorites for learning about the production of Champagne, both in France and here in the Napa Valley.

The Tour starts outdoors in a small demonstration vineyard where examples of all the grapes used in making Mumm wines are grown. We were encouraged to taste the grapes right off the vine. Note how compact each bunch of grapes is. Wine grapes are very different in appearance and taste from the table grapes that we usually eat.

We then moved indoors to Mumm's production facility and viewed all stages of their wine production and tasted three different sparkling wines.

We all were amused at Bob the Robot who was lifting 18 bottles of wine at a time. While we were looking down on Bob, he missed a few bottles of wine in one lift and stopped working. He looked embarrassed, we thought.

Mumm's tour ends in their art galleries. Visitors can visit the art galleries at no charge, without taking a tour. The current special photography exhibit, "Paris Icons" by James Scholz is being shown through September 26, 2010.

While Mary Ann and I toured, Jim and Louie sat on Mumm's outdoor tasting patio and did their own tasting. Louie was presented with a large doggie cookie as soon as he arrived.

We then drove up to the Veteran's Home of California whose beautiful campus is in the hills on the west side of Yountville.

By now we were hungry for lunch and headed back to Yountville to Pacific Blues

where we enjoyed Burgers

and a Reuben sandwich .

Since Mary Ann has spent limited time in Yountville, we walked around town a bit. We explored the French Laundry's gardens which are across from the restaurant,

visited some of the town's shops, and simply enjoyed the day.

And then, it was tea time at the Vintage Inn.

We got ourselves plates of mini pastries and tea sandwiches and some lemonade and iced tea and headed to the pool until it was time for Mary Ann to head back home.

For dinner for me and Jim that evening, it was off to Hurley's where we ate lightly, but, as always, enjoyed the food.

This is the height of the fresh tomato season and I had to try their tomato soup which is made with tomatoes and other seasonings and absolutely no broth...delicious with a polenta crouton floating in the middle.

I follow my soup with an appetizer serving of Moroccan Beef Skewers which were served with salad and hummus.

Jim started with a Butter Lettuce Salad

and followed it with Steamed Mussels.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From the Napa Valley; Part I

We've been back in the Napa Valley for our annual week away with Louie.

We tend to do a lot of the same things each time we come here for an extended a sense, after all these years, it's become a bit like a home away from home. Of course, in addition to our old favorites, we make new discoveries and sometimes those discoveries are that a favorite place is no longer there. One such example of not being there is that Vanderbilt & Co. in St. Helena, our special place for tabletop and home decor items for ourselves and for gifts, closed its doors on June 30. I did know they had closed because I had called Charles, the owner, in June to check on a project we were planning and at that time learned that he just could not keep his lovely store afloat any longer. Yesterday I walked by Vanderbilt and it is mostly empty and dismally shut up tight.

So, on our way to the Valley, we made our usual early morning stop at Sweetie Pies. It wasn't quite early enough, though, because they were already out of Morning Buns, my favorite of their breakfast pastries. Undaunted, I expanded my horizons with a Breakfast Stick pastry, while Jim had his usual Pecan Sticky Bun.

From Sweetie Pies, we walked along the Riverwalk, along the Napa River, and, then, through downtown Napa.

Napa has become something of a restaurant town and we checked out some of the places we've been hearing a lot of buzz about. Morimoto has recently opened with popular Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto at its helm. The restaurant has a formal dining room, casual dining in its bar, and a retail shop and market.

We passed the historic Opera House which was restored in recent years and which now features a full schedule of live performances.

From Napa, we headed to Yountville to our hotel. Wanting just a light lunch, we headed to the Ranch Market's Yountville Deli for a made to order sandwich, which we shared.

We had considered stopping at the more upscale Bouchon Bakery for a sandwich but there was a line there out the door and absolutely no place to sit in their courtyard. So we headed instead for the Yountville Deli, a local favorite, as is the Market, and, for half the price we would have paid at Bouchon, we had a place to sit and a very good, just-what-we-wanted lunch.

Both the towns of Napa and Yountville are emphasizing their public art with Art Walks. In Napa, I snapped a picture of a very large fish sculpture along the Riverwalk.

In Yountville, it was this work that caught my attention.

For dinner on our first night in the Valley, we joined our friends Jerilee and Jim, who have a vacation home up here, for dinner at Grace's Table in downtown Napa.

We had not known of Grace's Table and were happy to have Jerilee and Jim introduce us to it. The cuisine is global, so there is something on the menu for just about any taste and appetite. Grace's is a modest-looking place that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Jim D and Jerilee both had the Halibut,

the other Jim had the Cassoulet,

and I had one of the evening's specials: Roasted Albacore. For dessert we shared a slice of rich Chocolate Cake between the four of us.

What a lovely first night!