About Marcia Gagliardi

Marcia Gagliardi

Marcia Gagliardi is a freelance food writer in San Francisco. She writes a weekly column, Foodie 411 for the SFCVB on their “Taste” site; a monthly gossip column, “The Tablehopper” for The Northside; and regular features for Edible San Francisco. Her first book came out in March 2010: The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion.


Latest Posts by Marcia Gagliardi

Foodie Alert: 12 Top Restaurant Picks For Your New York City Bucket List

September 23, 2016 by  

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After my six-month stint in New York City, it’s time to share some highlights of my favorite meals, which include some very good recently opened restaurants.   Below are my top 12 just to get you started….

Estela

A long-standing New York favorite, and for good reason (this was one of my favorite dinners during my time there). Chef Ignacio Mattos understands texture like a boss, and his flavor combinations are fascinating, unexpected, and will make you fight with your table mates for the last bite. The space is candlelit and you have to be a size 2 to squeeze in between the tables (guys, please get rid of that wood banquette that is the wrong height for the table, seriously, it blows—the same could be said for our snotty server that night, ha-ha), but it’s worth the crush of humanity because this food will haunt you. It’s a chic spot for brunch too.

Photo credit: Time Out NYC

Fave dishes: dear lord, the ricotta dumplings with mushrooms and pecorino sardo, fried arroz negro with squid and romesco, and the classic beef tartare with sunchoke. For brunch, you have to get the egg, pancetta, avocado sandwich, which comes on a Danish roll (tebirke) made with laminated dough, poppy seeds, and almond cream from Bien Cuit.

Chomp Chomp

Just like its name, that’s what you’re going to do at chef Simpson Wong’s West Village Singaporean hawker restaurant. Any place where wafts of fish sauce hit you when you walk in is a great sign in my book. Flavor here is on TILT—wait until you taste all the sambals and side sauces. Boisterous, welcoming style, super-sweet staff. Go for the gruner veltliner for maximum pairing ease. Affordable pricing too. Love, love this place.

Fave dishes: Cereal prawns, murtabak (roti filled with minced beef), BBQ skate wing in banana leaf, chye tao kueh (fried radish cakes with shrimp and lap cheong), and lamb rendang with potato puffs. Below, Chomp Chomp’s chye tao kueh (fried radish cakes with shrimp and lap cheong).

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Uncle Boons

Another tiny place with flava in your face is this Thai gem in Nolita from chefs and owners Matt Danzer and Ann Redding (previously Per Se). Start with beer slushies and make your way through the (rather kindly priced) menu, with lamb laab and their beautiful khao soi with housemade noodles (perfection). The rotisserie chicken beckons—heed its bwoky call. Love the kitschy décor.

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Babu Ji

You love Indian food? Then get your butt over to Jessi and Jennifer Singh’s fun and funky Alphabet City joint and order the tasting menu (which is also the best way to score a reso), and experience a tour de force of Indian dishes with a light and playful hand, using quality ingredients. Show up starving, leave with leftovers. The tandoori chicken thighs are best in class, and the thali plate will make your eyes pop out of your head. Just wait until you see the yogurt kebabs in a stunning magenta sauce of beet and ginger. Good beer selection, which you access yourself in the fridge. Great sense of hospitality here too.

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Danji

I really dug this Korean neighborhood spot (it was near my place in Hell’s Kitchen), which features some elevated and fun spins on Korean dishes. The low lighting and cozy vibe would make this really ideal for date night, and chef Hooni Kim’s food is totally meant to be shared—there are even a few dishes designed for two. Extra-great on a wintry night, and my recommendation if you’re going to the theater.

Fave dishes: The trio of kimchi; steak tartare with quail egg; spicy cod roe with quail egg and seaweed over rice; bulgogi beef sliders; and shrimp and scallion pancake.

Russ & Daughters Café

How civilized, now you can enjoy the sublime smoked and cured fish of this venerable Lower East Side family business (since 1914!) on top of housemade bagels or latkes while sitting down and drinking Champagne which you order from charming chaps in white jackets. Also fun: blini and the nicest caviar you can afford. And there’s herring. And sturgeon and eggs. Show up with three or four people and do it up and get a platter. But don’t try to walk in on the weekend, you’ll just wait and wait and wait. (This place is worth it, but still.)

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Red Farm

If you’e a fellow dumpling obsessive, and you don’t mind shelling out a little for phancy dumplings, you gotta head to Joe Ng’s and Ed Schoenfeld’s updated Chinese dumpling spot in the West Village. This is not about dim sum carts and general mayhem, it’s about ordering steamed-to-order dumplings off a menu which you’ll enjoy in a room full of ferns while drinking wine.

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The crab and pork xiao long bao at Red Farm.

Fave dishes: the ginormous crab and pork xiao long bao, the cumin-spiked and pan-fried lamb dumplings, and the five spice chicken dumplings too (especially if you love peanuts)! If you’re hungover, you need the Katz’s pastrami egg roll.

Sadelle’s

It’s hard to pass up the charm of freshly baked and lovingly made bagels for brunch with three-tiered towers of gossamer-thin slices of smoked nova and bagel fixings. Really great spot for weekend brunch, one of my favorites, and even if you can’t get a reso, one Sunday I got lucky with a walk-in (it’s pretty big).

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Above, the LEO at Sadelle’s (eggs with caramelized onion are hiding under that gorgeous layer of house salmon) and a caviar supplement

Cosme

Cosme is a must. Well, it was for me after experiencing the mind-blowing Pujol in Mexico City, and I had to have Enrique Olvera’s tortillas again. The food at this sexy-chic Flatiron restaurant is so damn pretty—just wait until you see the way a salad is arranged. It’s sophisticated and elevated Mexican that doesn’t lose its roots. Chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes is doing a brilliant job, with just enough punches of flavor and chile, and a beautiful use of vegetables.

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Cosme’s Bean Salad

Fave dishes: cobia al pastor, ayocote bean salad, huarache with razor clams and lime kosho, soft-shell crab with yellow mole, and the husk meringue with corn mousse for dessert (a must—yes, this is a veiled corn smut joke).

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Huske Meringue with corn mousse.

Mission Chinese Food

I know I’m not the only one who misses seeing chef Danny Bowien running around SF in his shorts, let alone benefiting from his wicked culinary creativity full time. Which is why you need to see what he has unleashed on New York in the Lower East Side. It’s like a psychedelic visit to Chinatown (god love the coral upholstered booths and pink tablecloths and napkins and the fish tank and the ’60s lights and the gold dragons and wait until you see the business card) and you really should get a group together to do it right.

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“Lettuce cups” with beef tartare and ikura at Mission Chinese Food

Fave dishes: the “lettuce cups” with beef tartare, miso-cured ikura (pictured above), and fried onions, which come loaded with herbs. And of course you have to get the thrice-cooked bacon and rice cakes (served with bitter melon and sweet tofu skins) and the cumin lamb ribs. Who knew stir-fried celery could be so amazing? (With sprouted hazelnuts, celtuce, shaved sunchoke, and golden chives, that’s how.)

Il Buco and Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria

Bohemian Il Buco (in NoHo) has been a fave for years—it’s the perfect date night destination, midweek dinner spot, group dinner, and in my case, first balmy alfresco dinner outside after a rather cold spring. Also: Chloë Sevigny sighting (can you get more New York than that?).

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Springlike salad with Battenkill Valley Creamery ricotta at Il Buco.

The menu is always changing, with springlike dishes like creamy housemade Battenkill Valley Creamery ricotta, sugar snap peas, muscat grapes, and green almond. Choice wines, olive oils, and a staff that makes you feel like a regular after your first visit. Amore.

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Sister restaurant Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria is built for a dream lunch date, with even more outdoor seating, an eclectic multilevel space, and all kinds of dishes to graze on, from house-cured salumi to creative dishes like radish with white anchovy, grapefruit, and walnuts. Roast chicken, pastas, and housemade breads will take you to your happy place.

 

Health & Wellness: Indian Springs Mud Baths in Calistoga California

October 17, 2015 by  

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Have you ever been somewhere for the first time, and you got so mad at yourself for not having gone there sooner? Experiencing my first mud bath at ~INDIAN SPRINGS~ in Calistoga California was like that. As soon as I pulled up to the spa—with its charming Mission Revival historic building, palm trees, and punchy orange table umbrellas—I felt like I was visiting a resort in Palm Springs that had been magically dropped down into Calistoga.

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Photo credit: tablehopper

Talking to some of my long-term San Francisco friends, they remember when it was Pacheteau Baths, up until 1988, when Pat and John Merchant bought the property and renamed it Indian Springs. But the history of this land stretches back 8,000 years, when the Wapoo Indians settled here, creating sweat lodges and enjoying the mineral waters.

It’s pretty remarkable: the Indian Springs property has four geysers, and all the volcanic ash they use for the mud baths is from the property as well. Back when Sam Brannan owned all of upper Napa Valley, he envisioned the area as a resort. He built the original spa, mud baths, pool, and a racetrack—in 1861! Leland Stanford bought the property in 1880, and then the Pacheteaus took it over in 1905.

This place has deep roots—and total juju. And here’s the thing: after you steam in that intense ash-mud bath, you get to soak in warm thermal mineral water in a clawfoot tub that dates back to who knows when, and even the little wood shelf that holds your water and rests over the width of the tub looked older than me two times over, with its wooden nail and handcrafted edges.

It’s worth noting that there are a few moments when you’ll be totally nekkid and exposed to others (like your mud bath attendant), so if you’re modest, you can request a disposable swimsuit. (Don’t worry, the men and ladies are in separate areas in the spa.) When you’re soaking in your tub, there will be a few other people in the room as well, and someone else may be with you in the sauna. I dug the NorCal naturalism of it, and everyone seemed pretty chill about it, but if you’re modest, you can make a few adjustments. (Hopper says relax. And yes, that is a Frankie reference.)

After a good steam in the wet sauna (also powered with mineral water), you’ll be brought to an area that I called the human corral—there are open-ceilinged rooms with wood-slat walls lined up next to each other, each with a bed where you’ll be wrapped up in a cotton sheet and left to rest and daydream for a bit while your body returns to its natural temperature. (I just wish they would make that area a strict no-talking zone—some chatty spa guests walking by made a lot of racket.) And then it’s time to go to the massage you hopefully booked for yourself, or you can go hang out in a lounge chair by the tranquil Buddha Pond, or head over to the Olympic-sized pool filled with mineral water.

The main pool is magnificent. It was built in 1913 and is one of the largest pools in California. When you consider it’s filled with thermal mineral water, it’s incredibly impressive. The water is blissfully warm (anywhere from 92-102 degrees) and feels so silky on your skin. And healing. You’ll hear the water trumpeting out of the earth nearby (at 230 degrees!), and it then cools off in a series of reservoirs before it makes its way into the pools. It feels so…alive. Because it is.

A few things to note: the pool used to be open to the public, but the resort has now made it available only to hotel and spa guests (so if you can’t stay at the resort, you can book a spa treatment and the pool is complimentary Mon-Fri and $30 on weekends and holidays). Hotel guests have an extra advantage: you can use the pool up until midnight, while spa guests can only access it until 7 pm. Let me tell you, floating in that hundred-year-old pool under the stars is downright special. (And then you get to towel off your tired bones and toddle off to bed.) Oh, and for a little more peace and quiet, there’s an adjacent adult pool as well.

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An overhead shot of the massive pool. Photo courtesy of Indian Springs.

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The huge main pool with thermal waters. Photo credit tablehopper.com.

A big move for the property was building their on-site restaurant, Sam’s Social Club (named in honor of Sam Brannan), which opened early in 2015. They brought on chef Kory Stewart, previously at Americano, who is doing a bang-up job with the menu. After eating some of his bright and vibrant dishes, I said to my dining partner, “This is a happy chef. These are happy dishes.” You can taste it. Of course, being there at the end of summer, tasting perfectly ripened watermelon dusted with ghost chile salt and Brentwood corn soup topped with “salumi salsa” (it’s as good as it sounds) on the spacious back patio under the oak trees will put anyone into a chipper state of mind.

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Halibut ceviche at Sam’s. 

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The lounge and bar at Sam’s Social Club. Both Photos courtesy tablehopper.com.

The menu is full of snacks ($7), ten in all (like fried green tomatoes with bacon rémoulade, yes please), matched with an equal number of starters. Don’t miss the market ceviche ($17) with sweet potato chips—it was one of the best ones I have had. The line-caught halibut was so fresh, and you could really taste the delicate fish—instead of overdoing it like almost every ceviche you’ve ever had, Stewart cured it just so with lime.

We saw a lot of tables with the cheeseburger on it, and his rotisserie chicken looked good, too, but we went for the housemade casareccia pasta with guanciale and tomato ($24), sporting a warm heat from the Calabrese chile. Kudos on the well-made pasta and great sauce, but the guanciale was cut into some odd shapes, some almost the size of lardons—I would have liked them much smaller. Meanwhile, the grilled octopus ($15) had the opposite fate—it was cut into such small pieces you could barely discern it was octopus. These are small quibbles on an otherwise really delicious meal. Everything is served at the height of its season, and you can see Stewart is sourcing his ingredients like he’s still right across from the Ferry Building.

You probably have been smelling something warm and maple-y throughout the evening, and that would be the candy cap churros ($9) being brought to tables. Stewart was known for his candy cap desserts at Americano, and I was happy to have another taste here—the churros were so donut-y and cakey, don’t miss ‘em (you can also have them at breakfast!). The butterscotch and coconut bread pudding ($9) was another winner.

Brunch the next day was quality—Stewart is a fan of mushrooms (he’s a big forager), so the omelet ($14) with corn, mushrooms, chives, and Piave cheese (hold the truffle oil for me, thanks!) was the way to go. But then there’s the eggs in a hole ($13), with the creamy eggs tucked into Parmesan-crusted housemade brioche, topped with a mushroom fondue, and some really good home fries, with the richness cut with arugula on the side. You can steam it off later. Heh.

The bar and lounge have such a welcoming and handsome style, with a whimsical/folksy mural behind the bar, plus good lighting and comfortable seating—it’s going to be really cozy in the winter (complete with a fireplace). The space transitions well from the evening to being an airy and light-filled room during the day. The style fits in with the Calistoga surroundings and rest of the property—it has some subtle Western touches that hark back to its history.

If you’re staying on property, you get to ride their resort-branded Public bikes around, which makes you feel like a little kid again. You don’t have to worry about getting home a little tipsy after dinner (both the cocktail list and all-local wines by the glass are extensive, plus there’s a house-brewed IPA too)—just ride a little slower (it’s especially fun at night when you’re riding to the pools in your robe).

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The spa at Indian Springs. Photo courtesy of Indian Springs.

There are a variety of rooms you can choose from, whether it’s the original cottages, the bungalows, the lodge (renovated in 2005), or the the brand-new view rooms. We stayed in a new geyser view room, and I’d recommend requesting one on the top floor so you don’t hear people above you (but the ground floor was still very tranquil, don’t get me wrong). You have a view of the Geyser Pond, and either a terrace or balcony where you can chill.

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Photo credits: Indian Springs.

The rooms have a cheerful and eclectic style, from the cornflower blue headboards to the Turkish blankets, while the tropical vibe of the bathroom made me feel like I was in a cottage on Barbados. The beds are really comfortable and come with soft linens—you’ll want to request a late checkout.

The good news is, even though the property feels like a dream summery getaway, it’s also going to be a perfect place to visit in the winter—that mud bath and a nighttime soak in the main pool have my name on them.

 

Let’s Go: Wine Tasting in Portugal

June 3, 2015 by  

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One of the many retro trams you’ll see.

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If you find the A Ginjinha stand, you have to stop for a shot.

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One of the extraordinary street pieces by Vhils.

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The exterior of the beloved Solar Dos Presuntos.

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Almejas à Bulhão Pato (clams in white wine) at Solar Dos Presuntos.

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This is what happiness looks like at Cervejaria Ramiro.

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Take your pick of the beautiful seafood at Cervejaria do Bairro.

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A homey dinner at A Baiúca.

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The hopper getting her Azeitão on (and bubbles, natch) at the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira.

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Taberna da Rua das Flores—winning at atmosphere.

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The massive Jerónimos Monastery.

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The famous pastéis de Belém.

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The first room (of five!) at the Pavilhão Chinês, one of the coolest bars I have ever been to.

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The bewitching gardens at Palácio e Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra.

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See if you can find these subterranean stairs at the Palácio e Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra.

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The utterly charming Luvaria Ulisses, ditto the owner, who is holding the green leather gloves I want to go back for.

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Dusk at the Praça do Comércio.

I was invited to attend a five-day Portuguese wine tasting and education trip that was going to begin in Lisbon, and you can bet I was sure to fly myself out early.

Lisboa, I really had no idea how cool you were going to be, and it’s partly due to the fact there aren’t that many people in my life who have traveled there. And you know what?

That’s a big mistake, because this city is a full-on gem. Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Barcelona, they all get lots of love, but Lisbon is kind of like the quieter guy in high school who goes away to college for a year and returns home the next summer and is suddenly smokin’ hot—the charms were there all along, but it took you awhile to really notice them.

The city has a bunch of interesting parallels with San Francisco: it’s really hilly, full of cheerful yellow trolleys traversing the city like bumblebees, and with fresh air and beautiful light thanks to its proximity to water. The compact size feels comparable. There’s the 25 de Abril Bridge which, like the Golden Gate Bridge, is a suspension bridge and is funnily enough painted a color very similar to our bridge’s International Orange. Every time you see it, it feels like you’re back in SF for a split second. And then there’s the shared tragic history of getting wiped out by a major earthquake—the majority of Lisbon had to be rebuilt after its 1755 earthquake (there was also a fire, and fortunately we didn’t have a tsunami like they did).

Where Lisbon really has us beat is how old it is—we’re talking roots in pre-Roman times—and then subsequent layers of civilization on top of it. The architecture here is so rich, and everywhere you look, there is such beauty, from all the vintage Deco lettering to buildings covered in alentejos (the classic blue tiles) to the pavimentos (slippery cobbled streets, with larger designs in city squares, just like you see in Rio). So much old-world craftsmanship, everywhere.

It’s a city built for wandering, full of winding streets and stairs and vistas, and you’ll suddenly happen upon a group of people gathered around the little A Ginjinha stand, a famous place known for its liqueur made with sour cherry, or a bakery that’s over 100 years old. I dug the grittiness, the incredible graffiti and street art (including some really cool neon pieces and mind-blowing pieces by Vhils), and how easy it was to get around. Although when it’s absolutely dumping down rain, you’re going to want to find a café to hang out in—I couldn’t believe how much water filled the streets during an evening downpour.

The city is also shockingly affordable: I rented a top-floor apartment in the charming Chiado neighborhood for $110 a night, with a breathtaking view of Castelo São Jorge (thanks, Airbnb!), and taking a cab around was crazy cheap (this is what happens when you leave San Francisco—you suddenly see how much you’re overpaying for everything). When I had my first meal and got my bill, I almost laughed at how little my glass of wine cost—I’m talking 3 euros. The Portuguese definitely know how to encourage you to drink a lot of their national product. And I did.

And let’s talk about the food. If you love seafood, this is your place. I had some of the best seafood of my life, and there’s nothing like wonderful hospitality to make food taste even better. Dining solo can be awkward in some cities, but I was treated quite kindly and warmly almost everywhere I went. It helps to have some basic Portuguese down, do your best.

Some favorites (and be sure to check out my photo album on Flickr:

Solar Dos Presuntos
This place is absolutely steeped in history, in regulars, in famous people—it’s like an Elaine’s of Lisbon (since 1974), with the walls of the two-level space covered in caricatures of politicians, stars, and athletes. I had plenty to look at in between making eyes at course after course of deliciousness. They serve thinly sliced Joselito presunto on a piece of lightly warmed slate, so the fat starts to melt. You will die. The huge fish tank when you walk in is also a clue to what you want—it’s all about seafood and classics here. I had the juiciest clams (almejas à Bulhão Pato) in a garlicky white wine broth, and perfect arroz with juicy prawns and lobster. My server made some great pairing suggestions, and dessert is death by the toucinilho (i.e., flan extreme) and a glass of moscatel roxo.

Cervejaria Ramiro
Yes, Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain have blown the lid off this classic seafood spot that has been open since the 1950s, but it’s damn special. I wandered in there in the midafternoon, and very luckily only had to wait 20 minutes for a seat at a table. I was sandwiched in with couples, families, lots of locals, and some happy tourists, the paper tablecloths quickly covered in crumbs from the buttery bread in front of every guest.

Luckily I could order smaller portions of seafood (by the kg) and proceeded to have my dream lady feast of percebes (finally got to try these dinosaur paw-looking barnacles, and the host was kind enough to show me the best technique for eating them), stunning deepwater shrimp (gambas do Algarve) in rock salt, and sweet langoustines. (Even with my bottle of vinho verde, my entire check came to €46, amazing.) As you can gather by the name, most people are drinking beers, which will go well with your “prego” at the end: a garlicky steak sandwich that is traditional to eat at the end of your meal. I know, what? I was too full to even attempt it. This place was full of soul—so many locals and regulars, and they treat everyone like family. Warm fuzzies.

Cervejaria do Bairro
For a more modern and sleek take on a cervejaria, check out this newer spot in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. There was an array of fresh seafood, like razor clams, clams in white wine, Algarve prawns, and percebes—all elegantly displayed on ice—plus plenty of small plates like croquettes and gorgeously sliced pata negra de Bellota to round out your meal. There’s a bar as well (good for solo diners), but this place is great with a group.

Cantinho do Avillez
During the wine portion of my trip, we were hosted for dinner at this restaurant in Chiado, a relaxed bistro from chef José Avillez (of two Michelin starred Belcanto fame). We started with some mighty tasty appetizers (fried green beans, baked “Nisa” cheese with honey), although for some reason they chose to serve us their prego (steak sandwich) for our main course, so I can’t comment on the larger dishes, but the menu looked really appealing (and affordable). It’s one I’ll come back to, as well as his newly launched Mini Bar, serving serious snacks and canapés.

A Baiúca (Rua da Barroca No. 86)
My first night, I wandered to a nearby spot a friend recommended (Tagide), but sadly they were closed for a private function. But the host steered me to this homey and no-frills place in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, with the walls covered in art and years of memories (a mother and daughter have run the place for 40 years). The guy from Tagide had even called ahead to give them a heads up that I was arriving (which was revealed to me later). Adorable. My swishy server Isidro melted me with his sassy charm while I got my Lisbon home cooking groove on with bacalhau roasted with cream, potatoes, and onions. (There are a bunch of bars and fado spots nearby that you can visit when you’re done with dinner.)

Time Out Mercado da Ribeira
Oh dear lord, this place was a glutton’s dream food court. Time Out magazine helped to reinvigorate this old food market in 2014, which now features 35 kiosks with everything from Portuguese cheeses (try the buttery Azeitão and Ilha) to cured presuntos (hams) and charcuterie, croquettes, Santini ice cream, chocolates, and classic dishes. Some top restaurateurs have stands selling affordable dishes, like Alexandre Silva and Vítor Claro. One stand even serves the famous francesinha/”frenchie”—which isn’t from Lisbon, it’s from Porto—but I was so happy to be able to try the insane hangover-curing sandwich stuffed with sliced and roasted meats covered in melted cheese and a tomato and beer sauce, what the hell!

You’ll find beers, wine, and be sure to swing by the Garrafeira Nacional wine shop if you want a bottle of Madeira from your birth year. A great souvenir are the tins of sardines, mackerel, and more in colorful packaging from Conserveira de Lisboa. The mercado has a modern look to it, with plenty of communal seating—but note that it gets really busy on the weekend. Come hungry and with friends so you can share and eat your faces off.

Sea Me
This casual place was recommended to me by a tablehopper reader, a modern-sushi/fusiony seafood spot, which came in handy while I was waiting for a table at Taberna da Rua das Flores around the corner (in Chiado). The menu has sushi and sashimi, which is not what I came to Lisbon to try, but I really enjoyed their smoked sardine nigiri while I was at the bar, and the cuttlefish tempura with squid ink.

Taberna da Rua das Flores
This cozy little tavern is full of vintage flair, with tiny tables and rickety stools and old tiled floors, with an eclectic menu that they will bring over to your table on a blackboard. The cooking from chef André Magalhães was soulful and playful (you’ll find some international ingredients and references), and even though I really wished I was on a date in that atmospheric and candlelit room, I kind of had the best date with myself possible. The rotating menu features dishes like a tiradito of corvina, veal ribs, and other flavor-packed small plates. No reservations, so expect a wait, but fortunately you can drink some wine on the street until your table is ready.

One funny thing about the restaurants here: some of them will put out a bunch of little plates, ranging from olives to cheese to bread and butter to ham, which you will pay for as part of a cover/couvert fee, ranging from a couple of euros to a cuttlefish salad that was placed before me for €6. You can politely decline the ones you don’t want and they’ll whisk the dishes away, no problem.

At some point you should pay a visit to the Jerónimos Monastery, an enormous structure in a Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style in the parish of Belém, which has the tomb of Vasco da Gama. While you’re there, you can thank the monks for creating pastel de Belém (pastel de nata), that utterly exquisite egg custard tart that has made its way around the world (the wonders of colonialism). It ends up the monks and nuns were using a lot of egg whites to starch their clothes and needed to figure out a use for the leftover egg yolks. Presto: the pastel de nata.

Once you’re done checking out the monastery, like everyone and their mother, you have to walk over to the famous Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, which has been making pastéis de nata since 1837. While I was in Lisbon, I was admittedly trying pastéis de nata every day (yes, the plural form), but not one came close to the construction and flavor of these flaky and custardy beauties from the mother ship. Don’t worry about the line (well, unless you want to get them boxed to go). Just go hover for a table, eat a couple of these still-warm beauties with your coffee (be sure to sprinkle them with cinnamon), and go to heaven. (Check out this fascinating article for more about this treasured item, which they reportedly sell 50,000 of on Sundays.)

It was a bummer it was just too cold and rainy for some of the city’s awesome rooftop bars I heard about, this is what happens when you travel in November, but I can imagine places like Park are so fab on a summer night.

On the last night of our wine trip, we literally stumbled into one of the most amazing bars of my life, Pavilhão Chinês (Rua Dom Pedro, V 89). I have never seen anything like it, and it will be the first place I return to so I can make sure it was real. What started as a grocery store at the turn of the century was transformed into an antique shop, and soon thereafter the owner turned it into a bar. You’ll encounter a warren of rooms, each one filled with treasures in floor-to-ceiling vintage shelves and cabinets. There are little tables where you can sit, served by waiters in brightly colored vests, and then there’s the pool room in the back. You won’t even believe the room overflowing with old soldier memorabilia and war toys. There are details in every corner and square inch—even the ceiling is something to behold. One of the most magical places ever, and I’m so glad it was the last place on my trip, what a send-off.

One of the best things I did on this trip was hire a guide, who took me around for a couple of days. I was able to cover so much more ground, and with his background in art history, I learned a bunch about all the beautiful buildings and artwork and history of the city, and Pedro also took me to see some really amazing street art.

Bonus: he was as happy to go to the flea market as I was, and like a good Portuguese, was obsessed with good food, so he took me to some cool local spots for coffee, pregos, pastries, and more. He was also able to give me some real talk about the economy, the difficulties in the local job market (and why so many young people move away), and we had a blast talking about music and nightlife. My two days with him made my trip—it was like hanging out with a friend.

Even if you don’t hire Pedro to take you around Lisbon, you really should consider hiring him for a day trip to Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is about 20 miles outside Lisbon. You simply have to visit this dreamy and almost unbelievable place, full of palaces from the 20th century and earlier. My favorites were the Pena National Palace (a summer residence of the monarchs of Portugal during the 18th and 19th centuries) and the utterly mystical Palácio e Quinta da Regaleira, which the Freemasons used in the 20th century (this place is such a head trip, and do not miss the underground staircase!).

While you’re in Sintra, be sure to visit the Piriquita Café, famous for their travesseiro pastry (its name means “pillow,” which gives you a clue to its shape), with almond pastry cream inside. You can also try their queijadas, which are much less sweet (and easy to take to go).

Back in Lisbon, if you love tiles and find yourself getting more and more obsessed with the azulejos around town (it happened to me), pay a visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum).

Don’t miss the opportunity to be fitted for the most fantastic handmade leather gloves at Luvaria Ulisses, a total jewel box. The entire visit is such an experience. Since 1925.

It was pure luck that I was walking around the Praça do Comércio at dusk on a rare sunny moment when there was a break in the storm. The magic hour light was incredible, it actually brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t until later on that I learned Lisbon is referred to as “the luminous city” and “the white city.” Indeed.

All photos: © tablehopper.com.

The Annual Summer San Francisco Street Food Festival

May 20, 2015 by  

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It’s never too early to put La Cocina’s seventh annual ~SAN FRANCISCO STREET FOOD FESTIVAL~ on your calendar. This year, the festival is happening at Pier 70, where it’s moving after six years in the Mission. This year, La Cocina has partnered with Noise Pop and The Midway to bring the festival to Dogpatch.

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Since they’ve got more space, the festival will be even bigger this year (in 2014 more than 80 vendors participated and there were more than 50,000 attendees) and will last for two days, Saturday August 15th and Sunday August 16th. While they haven’t released the final vendor list yet, look for lots of La Cocina businesses like Bini’s Kitchen and Zella’s Soulful Kitchen, along with local chefs and restaurants like 4505 Meats. There will also be live music and other entertainment, as well as plenty of beer, wine, and cocktails. We’ll keep you updated as more details emerge! Pier 70, 20th St. at Illinois.

Food + Farm Film Festival Hits San Francisco April 17-19th

April 14, 2015 by  

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The third annual Food & Farm Film Fest is taking over the Roxie Theater in the Mission in San Francisco from Friday April 17th through Sunday April 19th, where you catch films about food, farms, and the unique people in both worlds.

The festival opens on Friday with a selection of short films, followed by an opening party at Four Barrel on Valencia. The full schedule can be found here, with highlights like East Side Sushi, about a Latina sushi chef, and The Search for General Tso.

Each of the films is paired with food from a local chef, which is included in the ticket price. Most tickets are $15; the opening night program is $30. 3117 16th St. at Valencia.

Festival del Sole Gala Packs Major Star Power

April 14, 2015 by  

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Sing to us, Kevin Spacey! Photo: Festival Del Sole.

The Napa Valley Festival del Sole is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the region’s cultural vitality and their Annual Festival Gala at Meadowood is going to be a big one this year. It’s happening on Sunday July 19th at Meadowood Napa Valley, and the theme is Hollywood + Vine.

It’s all about the nightclub scene of Hollywood’s golden age, with none other than the fabulous Kevin Spacey in attendance, performing standards from the Great American Songbook. (I know, we just need Christopher Walken to do a dance number for us.)

In addition to the megawatt entertainment, Meadowood chef Alejandro Ayala will be serving dinner along with wines from the cellar of Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. It’s all happening on Meadowood’s newly designed croquet glen and fairways, and should be a glamorous alfresco evening.

Tickets to the gala are $1,000 per person ($700 tax deductible) and table sponsorships are also available.

The Eighth Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine Event in April

April 2, 2015 by  

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The eighth annual ~PEBBLE BEACH FOOD & WINE~ is coming up fast, April 9th-12th, an international culinary extravaganza of eating, drinking, and general madness.

Be sure to scoop up tickets to the events you don’t want to miss, from the opening evening reception to the weekend of Lexus tasting tent action (which always sells out).

There will be many megawatt chefs in attendance, including Hugh Acheson, Dominique Crenn, Daniel Boulud, Anita Lo, Timothy Hollingsworth, Stephanie Izard, and Zak Pelaccio, to name only a few.  Don’t miss the many seminars, cooking demonstrations, special dinners and lunches, and of course, the fabulous wine tastings.

This year, look for lunches featuring beer pairings and cocktail pairings, along with multiple sparkling wine and Champagne tastings (like Billecart-Salmon, “The Epitome of Effervescent Excellence“—thanks Champagne!); some special dinners and lunches highlighting meat, like the Beauties & Their Beasts dinner with female chefs known for their butchery skills, and Josh Ozersky’s Meatopia; plus intimate meals with chefs, like the Pardon My French lunch around the chef’s table with Boulud and Crenn. Oui!

There will even be the chance to attend a demo and dinners (Friday and Saturday) prepared by Team USA, who won the silver at the Bocuse d’Or competition this year. Team USA’s chef Philip Tessier (Thomas Keller Restaurant Group) and his commis Skylar Stover (The French Laundry) will design a menu inspired by the “Culinary Olympics” at The Imperial Dinner. Such a unique opportunity!

Photo by Patrick Tregenza Photography via Facebook.

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Luxury Sipping & Eating at Carmel’s GourmetFest 2015

March 28, 2015 by  

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Chef Olivier Roellinger at his outdoor cooking demo.  .

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Chef Michel Bras helping to plate chef Francis Wolf’s dish at the Taste of France luncheon.

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L’endive farcie, parfum de truffes, by Michel Bras.

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The electric Ernst Loosen at his Mosel tasting and talk.

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Bonjour, gorgeous. A 1966 poured en magnum at the Dom Pérignon tasting.

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The lineup from the Dom Pérignon tasting.

It was an honor to be invited back to GourmetFest 2015, a weekend-long event in Carmel by the Sea, with some heavy-hitting Relais & Chateaux chefs from around the world, along with top winemakers and sommeliers from France, Italy, and more.

I drove down early Saturday morning, in time for the outdoor cooking demo with chef Olivier Roellinger (Les Maisons de Bricourt), who gave an interesting talk about the history of spices and how his use of spices was a challenge to traditional Breton cuisine back in 1982.

For the Taste of France lunch that followed, he served a riff on one of his first dishes (John Dory, cabbage, and 14 spices).

Another chef contributing to a lot of buzz at the luncheon was the presence of Michel Bras, who rarely leaves France for events. It was certainly enough for chef David Kinch to drive over for the day from Manresa, carting his first-edition cookbooks by Roellinger and Bras to have them signed. The ultimate fanboy!

Bras’s dish at the luncheon gave almost everyone pause: a beautiful head of endive (cooked so nearly all traces of bitterness were gone), filled with a mix of bread, olive oil, and black truffle, and then napped in an ethereal cloud of a cream sauce and a flurry of more truffle. So deceivingly simple but actually so complex.

The 2008 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape paired with the dish was also a smooth talker. The entire lunch was rather special; hop on over here for more pics. And it’s worth nothing the new event venue, Seventh & Dolores, was a nice change and step up from last year’s tent.

After lunch, it was time for a fantastic wine tasting with Ernst Loosen of the Dr. Loosen estate in the Mosel. The man is so vibrant and energetic, the world needs more people like him (I thought he’s like the German Gary Pisoni).

He walked us through the terroir, techniques, and a fabulous tasting of Wehlener Sonnenuhr riesling auslese vintages, including 1967, 1976, 1983, 1988 (loved the mushroom notes of this one), 1990, 1998, 2004, and 2011. What’s amazing is these “Erste Lage/grand cru” vines are more than 100 years old, with their original rootstock—they were never hit by phylloxera (the steep slopes and soil saved them).

It was a fascinating talk, and if you ever have a chance to hear Ernie speak, you’re in for a treat.

I managed to get a quick and slightly tipsy power walk in along the beach at sunset (what a dreamy location, really) and then it was time to strap the feed bag back on for the Grand Chef Dinner.

Highlights included the warm ceviche by Diego Muñoz (Astrid & Gastón Casa Moreyra in Lima), the “risoni all carbonara” by Annie Féolde of Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence), and the 2007 Calera Reed Vineyard pinot noir kept me in my happy place (and it was an honor to have the ever-stylin’ Josh Jensen at our table).

You can guess who slept like a rock in her room at La Playa Carmel—I kept my window cracked to listen to the nearby waves and let in some cool night air (the air in Carmel by the Sea is so bracing and fresh).

Sunday morning, time to rise and shine, time change be damned (of all nights I could have used that hour of sleep). I had a quick cappuccino and egg on toast at Carmel Belle—I needed to lay a little bedrock before walking into the 10:30am Dom Pérignon tasting, led by chef de cave Richard Geoffroy.

It quickly turned into one of the most extraordinary Champagne tastings of my life (I count last year’s Krug tasting and the private tasting I had in September at Louis Roederer as the other two, thus far!).

We tasted vintages spanning from 1990 to 2004, and the stars of the morning, three vintages poured en magnum: the complex 1966, the precise 1973, and the extraordinary 1975. It’s so rare to be able to taste these wines, and the fact they were transported directly from the Dom Pérignon library makes it even more special because you know they were stored perfectly.

Tasting the difference between the vintages was so illuminating. It was actually quite moving, I’ll admit I got a little misty. And I wasn’t alone—the energy in the room was palpable. I walked out of there feeling like the lucky lady I am.

I managed to snag a few quick bites at the Seafood Grill before heading back home—of course I needed to finish my 24-hour-luxury fandango with freshly shucked oysters from Taylor Shellfish topped with Siberian caviar from Black River Caviar, mmmhmmmm. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, for real.

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