Monthly Archives: January 2008

Happy Birthday

Break out the cake and candles. A Few Reservations is now one year old. Soon, I’ll have a toddler on my hands.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, why not check out some old posts?  Like this hissy fit over NOPA, or this gushing love-fest for Andina up in Portland, Oregon. And don’t forget, you can always find a complete list of reviews here.

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Reco for Phoenix?

Gotta make a quick business trip to Phoenix/Scottsdale this week. Does anyone out there have a restaurant recommendation for me? I’m hoping to avoid the horror of an Olive Garden next to a strip mall.

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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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Essencia

Let’s just get the excuses out of the way, shall we? Holidays, work, family, stress, blah, blah, blah. I know. It’s been a long time since we’ve chatted, Dear Reader. My bad.

I had every intention of doing some sort of Holiday Roundup, with a rundown of all the places I ate for free, thanks to the wonder of corporate Yuletide merriment. But you know what? I just got frakin’ lazy. (Speaking of frakin’ lazy, what’s up with the BSG season premiere not happening until March now? I mean, has the writer’s strike not punished us enough? But I digress.)

On to the subject at hand: Essencia. A tiny Peruvian place in oh-so-happening Hayes Valley. I was pretty stoked to check out Essencia last night as I remembered the phenomenal Peruvian meal I had a year ago or so at Andina in Portland.

The feeling of stokedness lasted through the description of the evening’s specials, which included a Wild Mushroom Ceviche. Color me joyous—it sounded divine. And its presence sort of made up for the fact that there wasn’t a single vegetarian entrée on the menu. Our waiter, a man both eager and earnest, assured me that the chef would be glad to make a special dish for me. Something about a Canario Bean Tacu Tacu with lots of veggies on top. I was game. I was even impressed when our waiter returned to the table to double check if eggs were okay with me. (Some folks don’t even bother. So kudos for him.)

But my happy dance ended when the food arrived. It wasn’t bad. It was just painfully mediocre.

The Ceviche was all lime and no nuance. Put enough lime and chile on a pair of sneakers and they’ll taste good, you know? None of the mushroom flavor made it through.

At least my entrée felt like an entrée. You know how I hate getting served a collection of sides. The Tacu Tacu—a fried bean and rice patty—took up a good portion of the plate, so the dish seemed substantial, if nothing else. (Emphasis on the “nothing else” part.) The flavor, however…well, I don’t even know what to say. It just kind of sat there. Perfectly edible, but boring. Like some guy your friend thinks she should date because he’s inoffensively nice, but secretly, she hates him because he has no passion. Oh, relationships.

Anyway, we skipped dessert for fear of calories wasted on unspectacular confections. (There’s no worse feeling, is there?) Their Quinoa Cannoli sounded promising—but then again, so did the Mushroom Ceviche. We just had to pass.

Onward and upward in the New Year, though, eh? I’ve got dinner plans at Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant tomorrow. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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