Category Archives: Mid-range Meals

Oleana

Hello, loyal friends. Just a quick missive today, to let you know I’m alive. I write from the snowy banks of the Charles River, where it is MOTHER FUCKING FREEZING. I think I forgot what real cold feels like. Thanks, Boston. Consider me schooled.

Anyhoo, I had a lovely solo dinner at the bar of a place a friend of mine recommended: Oleana. And let me tell you, it’s embarrassing when a town like Boston can whoop the pants off a town like San Francisco in the “friendly to vegetarians” department. Oleana is a rare gem—a restaurant that offers equality for meaties and veggies alike. I had choices, people. Good ones.

I started with a Swiss Chard and Eggplant Bisque, with Tomato Jam and Cheese and Pesto Panini. The bisque was ever-so-creamy without being too heavy, and pleasantly complex. The tomato jam gave it a hint of brightness, like some postcard from summer in a bowl full of winter goodness. The panini wasn’t as crunchy as I might have liked, but the flavors were great, and it dunked in the bisque like Paul Pierce over Tim Duncan. (Couldn’t resist a little Celtics love, since I’m in Bean Town and all.)

Next up, I tried their Ricotta and Bread Dumplings with Red Wine, Porcini and Black Kale. My waiter—who was admittedly the bartender—described the dish like gnocci, but that was a bit of a misnomer. The dumplings lacked that beautiful gummy resistance I was expecting from his description. Still, on this 25 degree night, the Kale and Wine were stewed to produce a flavor you rarely get in vegetarian cooking. A sort of hearty-savory-nom-nom that’s the hallmark of meatier dishes. I, for one, was stoked to eat it.

That’s it for tonight. My blogging muscles are out of shape. Gotta get myself on the keyboard treadmill, one page at a time.

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Mission Beach Café

This one’s gonna be a toughie, friends.

I want to rave about Mission Beach Café. I really do. For starters, I had a fantastic evening there. (But I suspect that had to do with the company.) And I have to give them huge props for offering a vegetarian entrée that wasn’t risotto. But.

But.

My friend ordered the Watermelon and Cherry Tomato Salad with Basil, Feta, and Sherry Vinaigrette. I ordered Heirloom Tomato Salad with English Cucumbers, Goat Cheese and Mustard Croutons. Sounds like two very different salads, right? Well, not so much. When they arrived, they looked exactly the same. I’m talking Mary Kate and Ashley here, in the Full House days, when they played the same freakin’ baby. The plating was identical, down to the croutons and the cheese crumbles. That seemed weird to me. I mean, they were offering two dishes that would inevitably be served together at some point during the evening. Why plate them up like twins? Literally, we wondered if they’d messed up the order and served us the same thing. And for both of them, the flavor was meh. Not bad, just meh.

Now for the entrée. Again—and I can’t stress this enough—mad points for trying. Like, I’d eat one hundred somewhat failed attempts at something interesting for every risotto in this town. They served up Wild Mushroom Corn Crepes with Spinach, Ricotta, Pine Nuts and Brown Butter. Rather inexplicably topped with a big heap of salad. Was it decent? Totally. Was it worth eating again? Mmmm, probably not.

Oh, man, I feel guilty now. All I do is bitch, bitch, bitch about the lack of interesting vegetarian options. Then when I get one, I’m not satisfied. But people—that’s how you know I care. That’s how know you can trust me. If you ask me, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” I’m going to tell you. That way, on the days when you look really hot, you won’t think I’m buttering you up. Deal?

One final note. We opted for the Coconut Cream Raspberry Pie. It was Coconut Cream Pie with a few raspberries poked on top. I dunno. Kinda felt like a cop out.

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Ubuntu rocks me. Again.

Did you ever meet someone who’s absolutely beautiful in every way? I mean, gorgeous to look at, kind-hearted, thoughtful, the whole package?

That’s Ubuntu. If I didn’t love the place so much, I’d have to hate it, because it’s just too perfect. It makes other restaurants look bad.

Okay, maybe I hyperbolize. But Christ, the place is good. Check out my original review for more gushing praise.

This Sunday’s lunch started with Leaves and Things, a perfectly composed salad of greens, flowers, herbs and roots. Then, Radishes with Chevre and Nori, with a mustard and banyuls vinaigrette and black sea salt. (Banyuls is a dessert wine. News to me.) Chevre and Nori together—what a revelation. And the black sea salt? Holy Mary, mother of God. It made the radishes sing in six-part harmony.

The Cucumbers with Miso “Bagna Cauda” was another stand out in an entirely outstanding meal. Let me lay down the players on the plate: Crispy fingerlings, ficoide glaciale (which is a succulent), shaved parmesan and olive caramel. Insane. INSANE. The ficoide glaciale shimmered as if it were frozen, and tasted like citrus surprise. The fingerlings added a warm, grounded goodness, and the olive caramel…well, the olive took the whole dish up to eleven.

The Cauliflower in a Cast Iron Pot. Comfort in a cup.

The Anson Mills Farros with Young Carrots. Vibration on a plate.

The Raspberry Sorbet Float with rose geranium soda, watermelon ice and lychee tapioca. Refreshment in a glass.

And the Mini Carrot Cupcakes with spiced frosting and tiny (tiny!) candied carrots. Bite-sized heaven.

I could go on and on, but that might keep you from clicking over to Open Table and making a reservation of your own. Go. Now. If you’re a vegetarian, you owe it to yourself. If you’re not a vegetarian, you’ll never think of vegetarian food in the same way again.

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Well, hello there.

It’s been tough times here at A Few Reservations international headquarters. Maybe the curse of Kristin has come to pass. Or maybe I picked up an enchanted Tiki in Hawaii and it’s starting to haunt me, Brady Bunch style. In short, life has unraveled. And blogging has fallen by the wayside.

Luckily, I had dinner Saturday night with a few fantastic friends, including the lovely and talented Michael Procopio, author of Food for the Thoughtless, and contributor to Bay Area Bites and the SF Examiner. His guilt trip worked wonders: Here I am typing.

The thing is, I can’t really blame my lack of blogging entirely on my current mental state. It’s also due, in large part, to the fact that I keep being disappointed by my culinary forays. And frankly, I’m tired of bitching about it.

Exhibit A: A recent meal at Coco 500. Now, Coco is a go-to restaurant for me. An easy recommendation for just about any occasion, and a sure-fire crowd pleaser when I’m taking folks out on the town. Last time I was there, I asked if the chef could pull together a vegetarian entrée plate for me. I wasn’t disappointed. So, this time around, I asked for the same thing. Guess what they sent out?

Yeah. Risotto.

Of all the gorgeous vegetables they could have used. All the lovely sides they have to offer. Fuck me. Risotto wasn’t even on the menu that night. Did they have a pot waiting in the wings, marked “For Emergency Vegetarian Use Only”? Sure, the risotto tasted great. But really, that’s not the point.

The aforementioned dinner with my boys at RNM was less disappointing. No vegetarian entrees on the menu, of course. But at least the collection of sides they brought out was truly well seasoned. Some asparagus, some spinach, some farro, and a downright tasty mushroom gnocci. (I know: Gnocci and farro on the same plate? Look, I’m trying to be charitable here.)

This is what I don’t get. Why is it a crime to put something vegetarian on the menu? If the chef is willing to make an offering upon request, then why not commit and put it on the page? It sure would make me feel a whole lot better. You know, like they actually valued me as a customer instead of treating me as a special needs case. It’s not 1957, and we don’t live in Nebraska. No one is going to label your restaurant a hippie joint if you dare to offer an entrée sans carnage.

I’m getting tired of beating that drum, you know? Has anyone out there had a fantastic vegetarian main plate lately? And if so, where? Tell me. Please. I promise to try it and scribe a happy, glowing review. Maybe it’ll even pull me out of my funk. Write and let me know. You can consider it a public service.

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Forever and a day

Hello, friends. It’s been a while.

Don’t you hate those mea culpa posts, where a blogger apologizes for being totally lame and going weeks—nay, months—without writing?

Me, too.

It’s not that I haven’t been eating. I had a reasonably interesting meal up at Blue Hour in Portland, Oregon. Their bread was ridiculously good. And I give them huge props for offering a vegetarian entrée, right there on the menu proper. The only sad bit was how underwhelming the entrée turned out to be. In all honesty, I can’t quite remember what it was. I just recall feeling disappointed. I caught them on a bad night, perhaps? Everything else, including my appetizer (some sort of Beet Terrine) was fantastic.

Then there was my recent meal at Range.

Oh, Range. On again, off again, our love affair. The evening’s veggie offering (and again, I was glad to see they had one) was a Spring Vegetable Cassoulet with Portobello Mushrooms and Butter Beans. It turned out to be…confusing, for lack of a better word. A big, gooey mess on the plate, with an incongruously placed Dolma smack in the middle, like somebody dropped a half-smoked cigar in the pot. It all tasted fine, but fine in a footie-pajamas, mama made me comfort food sort of way. I suppose one could place the blame squarely on me for ordering a Cassoulet in the first place. But since it was the only veg option, that’s a bit like employing the “she was wearing a short skirt” defense, no?

I guess it comes down to this. This spring has been crap thus far, and I haven’t felt inspired to write. Everybody I know has had a rough start to the year, and I’m no exception. Are all our collective Saturns in return or something?

Fear not. I will survive, Gloria Gaynor style. Just gotta get out of this slump.

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Orson

I think I love Orson.

Perhaps this love of mine is truer than most. Because I’ve still got a lot of criticism. It’s a lot like loving a family member, really. One feels compelled to put in a good word for family, fuck-ups and all.

Orson’s space is awesome, if noisy. Very cool, very stylish, simultaneously spare and ornate, as swirling design motifs decorate a loft-like, concrete cathedral of cuisine. In a few years, it’s going to look tres 2008—just like all of our be-doodled hoodies and distress-printed Ts—but for the moment, it’s just what SOMA needs.

With such hipness abounding, you’d think the staff would be too cool for school. But our waitress, our bussers, and our wine steward were all as sweet as punch. Helpful, welcoming, and genuinely interested in our feedback. Elizabeth Falkner worked the room, checking on each table. And even though she’s a friend of a friend and all that jazz, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit star struck in such a glammed-out atmosphere. I mean, here’s a women who might actually know what Padma Lakshmi smells like. That makes her a bonafide star in my book.

But on to the food.
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AOC

LA is not my city. I could never live with the traffic. But I’m learning to love it when the subject is food.

Case in point: AOC. Consider it modern, California tapas. I knew I’d love place from the moment they set down the menu—the first page is nothing but cheese and olives.

AOC is not necessarily a vegetarian Shangri-La, but there are certainly plenty of options to keep a girl happy. Far more than most restaurants, I’m happy to say.

We started with the Root Vegetable Salad with Burrata, Ginger and Mint. The burrata/mint combo was inspired—subtlety defined as a salad dressing. It had that kind of effortless balance that actually takes a shitload of work. We also had the Marinated Beets, Olives, Fried Chickpeas and Feta Salad. Fried chickpeas, dude. Who knew? So crispy. So light. And the feta was as mild as a day in May. (That is to say a day in May if you live somewhere other than San Francisco. May here is apt to be colder than January.)

Next, from the wood-burning oven, came Cauliflower with Curry and Red Vinegar. And you know what a whore I am for roasted cauliflower. They nailed it, too. Just like my lovers at Pizzeria Delfina. It was cooked to a creamy surrender.

And finally, a Farro and Black Rice dish with Pinenuts and Currants. This was a reco from our waitress, and I’m so glad she steered us toward it. I might have overlooked the dish otherwise, and headed for the Crushed Fingerlings with Crème Fraiche. (I had the potatoes on a previous visit, and have dreamed of them ever since.) The farro and rice was a hit, though, with the currents adding a flirtatious hint of sweetness.

So, yeah. AOC. It kind of makes up for the boob jobs and chin implants in LA. But not really.

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Goin’ South

Remember that CD “Goin’ South” from the ads on TV? You know, the one that featured all those trashy country-rock anthems like “Hold On Loosely” and “Bad to the Bone”?

Yeah, that was cool.

South Food and Wine Bar, though…not so cool. Not bad, per se, but certainly nowhere near as entertaining as an evening spent with a sixer of PBR and your boom box cranked with Georgia Satellites.

Perhaps I’m getting old, but the noise level at South verged on deafening. (Maybe too much Skynyrd in my past.) I’d suggest they invest in noise dampening tiles, but they already had them on the ceiling. Oh well.

They started us off with bread bits (think Fondue-sized chunks) served with Duka. Or is it Dooka? Or Ducca? Or Dookuh? Mac nuts, peanuts, cumin, coriander and sea salt, chopped up in a tiny condiment bowl, along with house-made olive oil. I guess I just didn’t get it. I mean, individually, all those ingredients are wonderful. In combination, however, South managed to create a flavor-free poultice that didn’t stick to the bread. (Read: Hard to get in mouth.)

My Haloumi Salad was tasty enough, with Apple, Fennel, Walnuts, Beetroot and Wild Rocket, but nothing about it wowed me.

I was psyched to see a vegetarian entrée on the menu—a Wild Mushroom, Sunchoke and Pecorino Pie—but again, it didn’t knock my socks off. It was good in that way that anything salty and bubbly and baked is good. So I suppose I ought not complain.

I dunno. Maybe I’m being overly harsh after my brush with heaven at Cyrus . But riddle me this, Batman—must every dish be served with a garnish of chives sprinkled atop it? Like, my partner’s Lamb, my friend’s Beef, and my Pie, all festooned with chives. It reminded me of the omnipresent sprigs of parsley at Denny’s. (Parsley with my pancakes? Sure. Makes perfect sense.)

I guess we could have been left with a more positive impression had we not ordered dessert. The Coconut Rice Pudding was a glutinous bore. I mean for chrissake, people, it’s RICE and COCONUT! Two of the most delicious things known to humanity. And yet.

So, in summary, points for having a veggie option—especially when the delicacies from Down Under tend to be so meaty—but the joint ain’t up to the hype. Unlike Pure Prairie League. They deserve the kudos, for sure. (Amie, what are you gonna do?)

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Yet another fabulous meal at Canteen

I don’t want to sound like a broken record by heaping even more praise on Chef Dennis Leary, but damn, that man (and his assistant Luis Contreras), can cook.

We ate at Canteen last night because we wanted a sure thing. The meal HAD to be good, and there HAD to be a decent entrée for me to enjoy. I wasn’t in the mood for exploration or disappointment. And Canteen delivered. Even from a menu with just four entrée options, they always include a vegetarian dish, prepared with the same delicate consideration as their meat dishes.

Thanks, Canteen. You made my night.

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Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant

Here’s a word of warning: When you go to enter Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant, march straight ahead and open the wide glass door. Don’t make the same mistake I did—which was to stare at the broad expanse of glass, figure it must be a window, then try to enter the restaurant through the locked storefront entrance on the left. The lesson here? Sometimes beautiful design can make you feel stupid.

Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant feels like the hipster loft of your imaginary friend who writes for Wallpaper and listens to nothing but Hotchip. Cool in both senses of the word.

The food was average, verging on pretty damn good. The Pear and Cheese appetizer—Roquefort served with Caramelized Pear, Hazelnuts, Mache and Black Pepper Gastrique—was a nice way to start. I moved on to the Roasted Parsnip Soup with Maple Syrup and Walnuts, which was apparently vegan, and quite well-balanced. The walnuts gave the soup a nice bit of heft. Then I opted for a salad instead of a pizza or the solitary vegetarian entrée, which was a Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage and Brown Butter. (Thankfully, my friend went for the ravioli and I got to mooch some. The sage was fried and tasty as all get out, and the brown butter was done just right.)

Here’s the mysterious thing, though. None of Local’s salads are vegetarian. The Butter and Watercress comes with Bacon. The Ceasar with obvious Anchovies. The Nicoise with the usual Tuna, and the Boquerones and Shaved Fennel, well, with Boquerones (anchovies with a fancy-pants name). Bummer. I chose the Fennel, sans fishies, and hoped for the best. Usually, leaving out a key ingredient—especially one that adds so much punch—is a recipe for disaster. But my salad turned out pretty swell without the sardines. Its Orange Segments, Sherry Vinaigrette and Roasted Pistachios stood on their own, all bright and smiley with citrus.

The Tomato and Basil Pizza was a bit of a disappointment. (Especially in a town where places like Pizzeria Delfina have set the bar at a staggering height.) Maybe we would’ve had more luck with the Roasted Mushroom and Green Olive Pizza. Who knows? I’m sure I’ll back to test that theory. If not for the food, then at least their lengthy selection of wines by the glass. Mamma needs her vino, no two ways about it.

I know a lot of folks here in San Francisco like to bitch about our sudden flush of wine bars, but me, I couldn’t be happier. Like, if someone rigged a Foam Dome with two Riedel glasses and a couple of curly straws, I’d be first in line to buy one. Does that make me an alcoholic?

Wait. Don’t answer that.

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